UCU HE left defeat attempt to put dire deal to members

Management has tried to sell deal as a win, as more and more unions capitulate under alleged pressure from Starmer and TUC

The left on the UCU union’s higher education committee have defeated an attempt by the union’s management to railroad striking workers into a ballot on a dire ‘deal’ offered by employers that members say would have represented a ‘sell-out’ and that would have represented the same real-terms pay cut higher education workers have been fighting.

The management’s support for the deal had already seen a torrent of no-confidence votes by branches – and even a protest outside the UCU headquarters in London. But now, in a circular to their members, the UCU Left on the higher education committee have told their members about the success in seeing off the attempt and what it would have meant had the capitulation gone through:

We stopped the sell-out. Fight on to victory!

UCU Left members of the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) today voted alongside others to ensure that our #UCURising disputes continue.

We are proud to have done so despite the denunciations now coming from the General Secretary and her supporters. We voted in line with the vast majority of branch delegates who opposed calling off next week’s strikes, and on behalf the numerous branches which passed motions against our leaders’ attempts to capitulate.

We thank all those who lobbied the HEC meeting at Carlow Street to make their views known.

This is why we voted the way we did.


The deal on offer is rotten. It consists of the same 15% real terms pay cut over two years that members rejected by more than 80% just a few short weeks ago. It expresses some hopes but no firm commitments that the cuts to USS pension benefits will be restored in a year’s time. The talks on casualisation, pay equality and workloads which the employers have signed up to contain no commitment that any outcomes will be binding on any HE institution.

Our sister union, Unison, wasted no time in deciding that this offer was not worth putting out to its members. Now, thankfully, UCU has come to the same conclusion.


The HEC is being told that we are defying the will of members who expressed their desire for a vote on the offer in a snap consultation initiated by the General Secretary on Wednesday. 

There was nothing democratic about this survey. Members were given a one-sided and misleading account of the offer which described it as a ‘breakthrough’ when it is nothing of the sort. The survey question conflated two issues and was rigged towards a positive answer. Moreover, the General Secretary broke the rules of the union in launching the vote. HEC is the only body with the authority to put offers out to members and it does so after proper scrutiny of the details and on the basis of reports from the negotiators.

None of this happened. The survey was a blatant attempt to force the HEC to fall into line with the wish of the General Secretary to call off action and end the disputes. HEC is elected to running our disputes on behalf of members, not to rubber stamp the decisions of the General Secretary.

‘Bank and build’?

The General Secretary tried to convince us that what was on offer was not a ‘deal’, but rather just an interim settlement that wouldn’t mean an end to the disputes. It was about ‘bank and build’ – accepting the ‘wins’ and continuing the fight, including the current reballot, to improve the rest.

This is complete nonsense. An acceptance of the offer would mean a settlement of the disputes and an end to action. It would mean the cancellation of the reballot that we have been working so hard to win and a promise not to take further action under the terms of the dispute. The employers would insist on nothing less.

In practice it would mean accepting the pay offer that has been imposed for 2023-24 as well as this year. It would mean relying for the restoration of pension benefits on the uncertainty of another USS valuation and the decisions of others. And it would tie our negotiators into endless working groups looking at statistics on contract types, pay gaps and workloads with no tangible results.


We were told that other public sector unions were settling, and it’s time for us to do likewise. But we refuse to accept that logic. Rather than capitulate to the employers, we prefer to try to give an example to others that we don’t have to accept a shoddy deal, and that members take the decisions about when a dispute is over, not General Secretaries.

The HEC’s decision will have shocked our employers. They thought they had bought our return to work with a few crumbs and worthless promises. Now they know they will have to think again.


Let’s put renewed efforts into building next week’s picket lines and rallies. Let’s rebuild the momentum of our disputes to inspire members to vote Yes in huge numbers in the reballot. Many of us would have preferred not to wait until the end of the academic year before using hard-hitting action. But now we’re here, let’s prepare for a marking and assessment boycott backed by strike action next term to win these disputes.

Insiders among the unions have told Skwawkbox that the surrender mode and false claims of ‘breakthroughs’ that have been spreading among striking unions have been driven by pressure from Keir Starmer and the TUC on the basis that continued militancy and action would somehow put his general election victory at risk – in other words, prioritising a Starmer election victory about the immediate wellbeing and pay of workers, on some vague promise of ‘jam tomorrow’ in better treatment if he gets into government.

Starmer’s ruinous tenure of the Labour party leadership has left a flotsam of lies and broken promises in his wake. Neither he nor the TUC denied the reports when contacted by Skwawkbox.

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