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Yesterday’s General Meeting

January 14, 2010

GM 13 JanuaryBetween 250 and 300 people attended the UCU General Meeting in the Worsely Medical Lecture Theatre yesterday afternoon, leaving standing room only for those who arrived after 1pm. UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt, who had arranged to speak at the meeting had been held back by the snow in Brighton, from where she had set off early that morning. She is re-arranging her diary to be able to come and speak to members next Thursday, at 1pm. This, and a venue, will be confirmed shortly.

Malcolm Povey opened the meeting by explaining that talks between the University and UCU were held on 11 January under the auspices of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), to explore ways of resolving the current dispute between the UCU and University management. Both sides agreed to meet again next week to continue those talks. Respecting the confidentiality of those talks, Malcolm then set out our position very clearly (all of which was already in the public domain). He offered a narrative that began with the section 188 letter sent to the Unions last summer, the failure of the university consequently to uphold its statutory obligation to mitigate against redundancies (in fact the number of them in FBS increased over the summer), and the more recent bringing forward by management of the deadline of the job matching process in FBS to 9am of the day of the first meeting with ACAS. Members were also reminded of the details of the dubious nature of the job matching process.

Regional official, Mark Oley, told members that of all the requests he had put to the University under Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act in his letter of 4 November, he had received replies to none.

Questions and comments were then taken from the floor. Staff in the Faculty of Biological Sciences spoke of a ‘climate of fear’ that management had generated there. One member of that Faculty explained that he had made a Freedom of Information request to see the budget figures on which the Faculty plan were based. He had heard from the University’s legal advisor that the information he had requested was disclosable under the FOI Act, but that, despite this and the requirement of that act of parliament being that disclosure should be made within twenty days, over forty days later that information has still not been released. Another member of FBS staff spoke to the information that the University had put up on its website explaining why FBS was under review (blaming the staff). This web page was so full of misinformation (it was described as ‘grossly misleading’) that it will be the subject of an annotated web page on the blog shortly.

The ballot

A member from History asked what kind of action would be taken if we won the ‘Yes’ vote, and Malcolm told the meeting that action would be decided by EGMs called as required. A member from English reminded the meeting that the University was pursuing cuts when it had cash and near-cash reserves of £90M, even though it is required by law to hold no more than half of that, and reminded the meeting that the University was taking out a loan for £35M for capital projects it had been describing in press releases last year as ‘the biggest since the 1960s’. The argument that a yes/yes vote was the most certain way we could avoid taking strike action received a round of applause. A member from the Institute of Transport Studies reminded the meeting that the ballot was not just about the Faculty of Biological Sciences, but also the other ten areas under review, and then the rest of the University once the ‘Economies Exercise’ begins to bite. This too received applause.

The mood was overwhelmingly supportive of the union position. Members present were asked to talk to their colleagues and encourage them to vote ‘Yes’. Stephen Lax reminded members of the work of the action committee and invited further membership of that committee.

The meeting concluded with a unanimous vote in favour of a motion of support for the ‘Right to Work‘ conference.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. newtothis permalink
    January 14, 2010 8:42 PM

    Thanks for keeping us al informed. I’m new to the union, and come from a background where unionism is a dirty word. I’ve always been deeply suspicious of the UCU at Leeds – I thought you were just a small bunch of trouble makers, if I’m honest. But then the University announced the economies, and I began to read the detail. I subscribed to your blog early on. It’s been a measured and fact-based set of news items, and it has taught me a lot about my employer. The UCU has represented itself with a calm dignity in the face of some appalling behaviour from management. The treatment of FBS staff is appalling and the rest of us need to be aware this will eventually visit us too. I’ve never voted to strike in my life. Nor has anyone in my family for generations. This afternoon I got an email that was obviously generated, telling me to vote no. It was from a student I’d never heard of. It was completely misinformed – is the University encouraging students to send an email written for them, pulling the wool over their eyes about the damage they are unnecessarily causing? I reached for my ballot paper, and voted ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. All my colleagues are doing the same.

  2. breadwinner permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:13 PM

    Actually, it is the Student Union who have set up that email. Surely this means now for the first time that we are allowed to engage the few students who are opposed to our dispute with our arguments, if they directly address us about the situation? This is a blessing in disguise. I got one of these emails. Replied. The student replied back that I made sense and asked me more questions. I was able to point them to the facts on this blog.

  3. Jarvis permalink
    January 15, 2010 10:06 AM

    Someone sent me a spoof of the student messages:-

    Subject: Please put my rankings first and vote no to strikes!

    Michael Arthur
    Dear lecturer,

    I am a vice-chancellor in your university concerned about the prospect of industrial action by lecturers and impact this will have on my rankings. In a survey of fourty vice-chancellors carried out in 2009 by the Russell Group, the two main things that vice-chancellors said they wanted help with were getting into goverment posts and ranking success. Strikes will not help me achieve either of these.

    Due to accounting errors by a highly paid financial officer in central administration, the University has mislaid £20,000,000. We are entering a funding situation that has been hit hard by the recession: there is rising senior academic unemployment levels and far fewer goverment jobs available than before. Now, more than ever, I need a high quality university experience free from the disruption of industrial action.

    I believe the only way to resolve the dispute at Leeds is for university staff to do exactly as my management team tells them and refuse industrial action.

    Please do not make me the innocent victim in your dispute. Please think about my salary and vote no to strike action or any action that will harm my rankings. Please put my knighthood first.

    Thank you

  4. January 15, 2010 10:48 AM

    In the interests of accuracy, we should point out that the University’s financial miscalculation of their budget was of £100 million, not £20 million. It was £20M per year over five years.

  5. Tim Dimm permalink
    January 15, 2010 2:58 PM

    Dear lecturer,

    I am a student in your department concerned about the prospect of industrial action by lecturers and impact this will have on my education, despite the massive impact on my education that not taking any stand against a university management hell bent on unnecessary cuts will have. In a survey of four thousand students carried out in 2009 by Leeds University Union, the two main things that students said they wanted help with were getting into work and academic success. Quite obviously, only the staff of the University provide me with these, and they do a great job of it despite their stressed, over-worked conditions. I’m shocked you want to think of generations and generations of future students, and not just me. Strikes will not help me achieve my goals, but of course they will stop management from causing damage to future students and causing unnecessary pain to hundreds of families as a result of needless redundancies. Of course the University should be borrowing £35 mill for some more buildings, and of course £35 mill must be saved to be able to afford this spending. To put yourself first instead of some nice glass edifice is quite selfish.

    Due to tuition fees, students are graduating with record-high levels of debt, around £23,000. This is not your fault, but I thought I’d mention it. In fact, I know that you all fought hard to stop the fees, still oppose them and are going to try to oppose the increase in fees for future students. But I want you not to upset our VC, who is doing nothing to argue against an increase in fees, and has in fact spoken of how Leeds will benefit from them. We are entering a graduate employment market that has been hit hard by the recession: there is rising graduate unemployment levels and far fewer graduate jobs available than before. Especially academic jobs, but I don’t want one of those, unlike all your PhD students. Now, more than ever, I need a high quality university experience. Now, more than ever, that high quality experience is jeopardised by the people you are fighting. Still, thinking of my last few months here, I’d actually quite like an experience free from the inconvenience of industrial action.

    I believe the only way to resolve the dispute at Leeds is for university management and staff to conduct meaningful negotiations with a view to seeking an agreement which avoids industrial action. The fact that for months now you have sought to have meaningful negotiations and management has acted in contempt of its own rules and the law in terms of how it should negotiate is something I won’t mention, because it would undermine my argument. I know that if I actually supported you the university would be far more likely to enter into negotiations seriously, but I haven’t quite let that sink in.

    Please do not make me the innocent victim in the fact that hundreds of you are going to be on the dole for no good reason. Please think about my education first and vote no to strike action or any action that will harm my education. Please put my education first, and don’t worry about the future generations.

    Thank you

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