February Branch News: soaring membership, international staff and more!

Please encourage your colleagues to come to our USS Roadshows! We are joined tomorrow by Paul Bridge, UCU’s Head of Higher Education, who has been coordinating UCU’s negotiations and privy to all national developments. No prior knowledge necessary!

  • USS Roadshow, Thu 15 Feb, 1-2, Geography Building, C03 (with Paul Bridge, Head of HE for UCU)
  • USS Roadshow, Mon 19 Feb, 1-2, Firth Court, Council Room

February Branch News

Our work in support of international staff reaches the University’s executive board, our casualised colleagues are in the forefront of our thoughts, and our membership soars as strike action draws ever closer.

Before we get stuck into USS, some good news: after a year of solid campaigning on the difficulties facing our international staff, a paper backed by the vice-chancellor went to the University’s executive board earlier this week proposing a whole host of extra support, including significantly enhanced financial, legal and practical assistance. We do not yet know what was agreed, but hope to be able to provide details soon. You can read more about the history of our campaign on our dedicated website.

Unfortunately, our campaign over the employment conditions of the University’s over-casualised workforce has had much less support from Sir Keith. There will be few members who cannot name colleagues on temporary, insecure or even zero-hours contracts, yet the University does not appear to recognise the levels of exploitation in practice across the insitution. Following on from our investigations a little over a year ago, meetings have been taking place to try to force some movement, but it is clear that the University does not see this as a high priority. With the upcoming strike action a particular challenge – emotionally and financially – for low-paid, precarious, or otherwise casualised colleagues, we are putting the finishing touches to an open letter of support, and will be asking professors in particular to sign.

On to USS, we are now a week away from the heaviest industrial action this university has seen in a generation. With our membership up 12% since the start of December, and students firmly on our side, our vice-president for learning and teaching’s message to students that “while there is likely to be some disruption to lectures, we don’t expect expect this to be significant” may not be helping anyone. We are doing all we can to pressure Universities UK into reopening meaningful talks, but are well on the way with preparations to do these strikes properly.

We sent our local guidance to members earlier this week on what strike action will involve. Please read this! One key point is that you are not required to pre-notify that you intend to take action. If your manager asks you in advance, reply that your union has advised you that you shouldn’t answer this, as is your right. You should work normally until the day of action: do not make preparations in anticipation of being on strike. When the action starts, come in and join your colleagues on the picket lines: visibility is crucially important, and the camaraderie is uplifting. We have planned a full programme of events for the first five days of action, and will circulate details soon.

On the dynamics of the dispute itself, details are emerging of how Oxford and Cambridge have had a big hand in the hard-line position of Universities UK, with both universities favouring a breaking up of the scheme, and ending defined benefits being the first step. If you needed clearer evidence that this is about more than simple affordability, you’ve now got it.

We will continue to keep you updated with USS developments. By far the best way to keep on track is by following our very active Twitter account. Before Christmas we asked whether we were beginning to see the tide turning on the power dynamics within Higher Education. Looking at how students and staff are uniting in the defence of education itself, the optimists among us may hold some hope for the future.

Sheffield UCU Committee

PS Happy #heartunions week!

Dates for the diary

  • Strikes! 22 Feb, ongoing (details here)
  • Thu 1 Mar, 13:00-14:00, General Meeting, Hicks LT5 (NOTE CHANGE OF DATE!)

USS Resources!

Looking for our stuff to do with USS? Head straight to our USS: 2017 Valuation Resources page!