The University’s response to UCU proposals for industrial action – a critique

By now everyone will have had a chance to look at and digest the points made in the University’s letter to staff threatening to withhold 100% of pay if an individual participates in action short of a strike, in this case a setting and assessment boycott.  The VC, Koen Lamberts, today received the following letter from a UCU member at Leeds, Simon Hall.  This letter is excellent, and from the emails that have been coming into the union office, epitomises what many people are thinking and feeling.

 30 October 2014

Dear Professor Lamberts,

I recently learned that the University of York intends to withhold 100% of pay from members of the University and College Union (UCU) who participate in ‘Action Short of a Strike.’ As you know, this industrial action has been called in response to the proposed ‘reforms’ to the Universities Superannuation Scheme – proposals that, in their present form, constitute the most serious threat to academics’ pay and conditions in at least a generation, and which will leave thousands of academics many tens of thousands of pounds worse off in their retirement.

Your threat to dock 100% pay on a continuous basis – which amounts to nothing less than old-fashioned union-busting – might be expected of a nineteenth century mill owner, but it has absolutely no place in a university system which, quite rightly, values collegiality. The decision to define any work that unionised academics at York continue to do (including the preparation and delivery of lectures, the planning and running of seminar classes, the hosting of visiting speakers, research, the writing of journal articles, conference papers and books, the supervision of undergraduate, MA and PhD students, the provision of pastoral care, the writing of references and letters of recommendation, the preparation and evaluation of grant proposals, committee work, and the enthusiastic participation in a range of undergraduate admissions and recruitment activities, including open days) as merely “voluntary” is utterly shameful. The decision to calculate deductions in pay on a 1/260th basis – thereby ignoring the substantial amount of work that, as you know perfectly well, is undertaken by academics on weekends – only adds insult to injury.

I note the University of York claims to apply “the best ethical standards” in all of its activities, while your latest strategic plan lauds York’s “informality”, “friendliness” and “flat management structure” – all part of a distinctive “ethos”, we are told, that is designed to help “promote a sense of belonging and worth” among your employees (an approach, furthermore, that you claim will be “protect[ed] and develop[ed]” because “it contributes to the dynamic intellectual environment on which our future success depends”). I am very keen to know how your proposed actions in response to the UCU’s action short of a strike tally with these values, and eagerly await your response.

With very best wishes,

Dr Simon Hall

Senior Lecturer in American History

School of History

University of Leeds