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Strikes averted by negotiated settlement

March 16, 2010

An agreement has been reached this afternoon to resolve the dispute between the UCU and the University of Leeds.

The main features of the agreement include a new sector-leading process for managing organisational change; this reinforces collegiality and the engagement of staff and enshrines the principles of openness, fairness, transparency and good governance in detailed new policies and procedures to promote job security, avoid redundancy and manage change. The agreement also covers the position of the Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS), where the post-restructuring review phase – various steps aimed at avoiding compulsory redundancies – will be extended to the end of January 2011. New measures to facilitate redeployment and retraining and where appropriate the reinvigoration of research work are to be piloted in FBS.

More information is to be made available soon, with documentation going up here and on campusweb.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. RMS permalink
    March 16, 2010 4:40 PM

    Well done! Could you please explain how this agreement differs from the last agreement which avoided the previous strike? Thank you very much.

  2. March 16, 2010 4:50 PM

    Thanks, and thanks for your support.

    We haven’t had time to breathe yet, but be assured the difference will be clear when you read the documentation. There is more now than 24 Feb, and it contains far more detail than the promises to discuss we had then. Believe us, we’d not recommend to end action if hours and days of work on this was not substantially captured in this agreement. More soon.

  3. rem permalink
    March 16, 2010 4:52 PM

    Excellent news; thanks for all your work!

  4. Laura Miles permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:04 PM

    I haven’t seen the detail of the agreement yet but it looks like you have won a significant victory, so well done to everyone who stood together against an outrageous attack on jobs, conditions and educational provision at Leeds Uni!

    Hopefully you will turn the Thursday rally into a victory celebration. Your victory will be an example to the rest of us, whether in HE or FE, about how to defend education and build resistance to the cuts. Othe VCs will be watching this outcome. Sussex is on strike on Thursday and other Unis and colleges are close behind.

    It also seems to me it is very important to recognise that this victory was delivered by the growing strength of the branch and branch leadership and the willingness of members to take strike action and not by the cleverness of ACAS or the union’s national negotiators. Words may seal a deal but action and the threat of action delivers. Well done all!

    Laura Miles, UCU NEC member.

  5. Andrew permalink
    March 17, 2010 1:20 AM

    Working for a private sector firm before entering academia, I must admit I used to adopt a cynical attitude to academics but after having spent close to 5 years in Leeds, I now fully appreciate how difficult it can be for academics like myself who have to put up daily with the claustrophobic and bureaucratic environment in which HE/FE in the UK has become. I am sure that our fellow academics only wanted the strike in the first place because management consistently refused to listen, spread rumours, and played games in the negotiations that were totally unwarranted. The ballot for strike action, which garnered overwhelming support, was only our action of last resort to robustly signal to University management that our opinions, collegial and academic freedom were of utmost importance and that under no circumstances should these should never ever be trampled upon.

    At the time of posting, I have not seen the documents and joint statements. Nevertheless I believe that the negotiatiors should still be given kudos for agreeing to avert strike action again because
    they, like your members, are only wanting to get on with our responsbility of providing a world class educational experience for fee paying students. At the same time through the success of the ballot the message to management is clear: They have been warned never again to trespass those values that we hold dear to our hearts.

  6. An academic permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:21 AM

    Well done, and congratulations. We shouldn’t fail to recognise that some of our colleagues have spent hours and hours, days and days, sitting in a small room with management in often strained conversation. It must sometimes has seemed preferable just to stand on a picket line, but they stuck with it right through to the end, and the University is a better place for it. Long live unionism.

  7. Dissenter permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:42 AM

    I’m sorry, but the above is nonsense. The deal that has been struck is essentially what was on the table through the ACAS process, and national UCU have pulled local negotiators back to the table to accept the deal. Don’t delude yourselves about what’s going on, or the SWP motives that sit behind it.

  8. March 17, 2010 8:47 AM

    National negotiators have been sitting with local negotiators all along in the process. As the documents have not yet been published in public, we would ask you to wait. The 24 February document was a piece of paper, which detailed the things that would subsequently be agreed. Yesterday’s was several sheets of agreements with detailed appendices. The UCU executive (no majority SWP) and the UCU committee (no majority SWP) and the membership at the EGM (not a majority SWP) all saw the differences and agreed on them. There are significant embellishments on the 24 Feb agreement, including wording on governance never before seen in a UK institution. If, having read these, you can identify a SWP agenda (and how that might come about when the negotiators were by far not SWP members), then we’d be happy to discuss that perception.

  9. An academic permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:53 AM

    Ah. Another conspiracy theorist who, despite all evidence to the contrary, wants to believe that somehow these improved agreements represent a SWP plot to take over the world. Pass the aspirin.

  10. Jon Bryan permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:54 AM

    Congratulations to all the Reps and members at Leeds University UCU!

    Jon Bryan
    UCU Regional Support Official
    Northern Region

  11. Mark Taylor-Batty permalink
    March 17, 2010 9:40 AM

    I want to nip this lunacy in the bud. I was VP of the UCU here at Leeds for two years until last year, and I am currently a Joint Secretary and the Press officer. I run the blog and am one of a number of people who write blogs. I’m one of the people behind the ‘leedsucu’ avatar. The SWP conspiracy theory has absolutely no basis in reality, certainly not in my experience of executive decisions and conversations, and discussions recently with local and national negotiators. I am not an SWP member, and nor are the majority of the executive members of the UCU here at Leeds, nor do I have any problem with anyone’s political affiliation, including that of my SWP colleagues (though I’ll stop short at BNP). I’m proud that my union embraces a wide spectrum of political persuasions, and that this is reflected in membership, committee membership and on the executive. The single drive behind the recent action was to get an improved University. We have all pulled together to achieve that result, and have all agreed tactics, and have always taken those to members in meeting to be agreed or not first. Now,if anyone still wants to believe (and I think it is a question of ‘wanting’) that somehow, despite all these democratic checks and measures, somehow one political persuasion was able to hoodwink the thousands of members into following the course of action that ended in yesterday’s agreement, they are welcome to come to my office at 4pm next Tuesday to discuss the matter or, if that time is not convenient, to email me on m.j.taylorbatty (usual leeds uni permutation) to arrange another time. Thanks.

  12. lecturer permalink
    March 17, 2010 2:51 PM

    if it was an SWP agenda, surely we’d all be on strike tomorrow, against cuts? it wouldn’t have been about governance.

  13. March 17, 2010 2:56 PM

    And to remind those with a short memory, here is the unambiguously-titled post ‘why we are striking’:
    https://leedsucu.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/why-are-we-striking/

  14. ARW permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:11 PM

    As it should be. Well done for all of your hard work, very pleased for you.

  15. Josef K permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:24 PM

    Whilst I’d like to add my congratulations and thanks to all the hard work of the UCU negotiators, I remain worried that the UCU is much less committed to helping individual members fight the day to day bureaucracy that is blighting the University and the wider sector.

    The negotiators were rightly responding to macro issues. But I strongly believe that one of the main reasons for the University’s attitude that made these negotiations so difficult is that so much of academic autonomy and professionalism has already been undermined at a micro level (often, ironically, by UCU members who fail to accept responsibility for the consequences of their bureaucratic actions) – thus the management thought they were pushing at an open door.

    My fear is that this will be a short term victory followed by more and more day-to-day strife that the UCU appears unwilling/unable? to take a lead on.

    Where is the centralised UCU guidance/advice/publicising of “worst practice” etc. from which academics can receive support as they try to stem the micro-managing of our ever-decreasing academic autonomy?

    Sincere congratulations again, I just really hope it doesn’t turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

  16. Sally Kincaid permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:52 PM

    Well done all, you have shown by sticking together and being prepared to take action, you have forced them to back down.

    This is an important lesson for everyone in this country- private or public sector, we cannot let ordindary people pay for the economic crisis they have caused.

    Defend jobs, defend education for all!

  17. March 17, 2010 5:04 PM

    Josef. We have a team of case workers helping individual members across the campus, whether it be about perceived bullying, or someone who is threatened with failed probation, or someone who is not receiving appropriate compassionate leave, or someone who wants advice on workload allocation, or someone who wants support in a meeting called with HR. This is happening all the time around the campus; it is the daily bread and butter of the UCU. If you need help with a particular situation, or want advice on any issue in the workplace, please do contact Sue Redhead.

  18. Josef K permalink
    March 17, 2010 5:19 PM

    Forgive me, but that’s not the point I am making.

    None of the instances you refer to include the increasingly bureaucratic nature of our job *as a serious problem in itself*.

    All the issues you raise are obviously important aspects of the UCU’s role – I would not dispute that – but they don’t address the basic de-professionalizing nature of the structures we are increasingly working under and all the attendant problems that causes.

    The UCU risks making sure that no members suffer from the sorts of procedural irregularities you identify but failing to recognise that it is the procedures themselves that are frequently the most significant problem in an academic’s professional life.

    Please do not misinterpret these points as a lack of recognition of the recent negotiated settlement, I am genuinely grateful for all the hard work – but I remain worried for all the reasons stated.

    I think the UCU persists in overlooking some of the underlying problems so that it remains in a reactive rather than proactive mode.

  19. March 17, 2010 5:25 PM

    Thanks Josef. We are constantly and on a weekly basis addressing the administrative burden and commenting on proposed schemes, protocols and procedures. 95% of what we do is this, invisibly (the new criteria and procedures for promotion last year, for example). And we bring these often to our regular general meetings for members to comment on as appropriate. If you want to participate more in tis, or have suggestions for us, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  20. Dissenter permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:29 PM

    Some facts:

    1. The outcome of last week’s EGM calling for a strike tomorrow appeared on the SWP website before the UCU website. Not good.

    2. The Employment Security Review Group has been on the table since September. Other parts of the ‘groundbreaking deal’ have been on the table since before ACAS talks ended. Why didn’t our negotiators take this up, follow it through, and get to the deal? Surely not because they actually enjoy the cut and thrust of negotiation?

    3. National UCU officers pulled our local negotiators back to the table as there was some fury nationally that the local team had walked away from an excellent deal. [I’m told this by a member of our local committee!]

    I just feel disgusted that ‘the boys’ have to have their moment of macho posturing over industrial action, rather than getting on with the job of defending members. More fool us for electing them – or not putting up others who have the interests of members as their prime motivation.

  21. computor permalink
    March 17, 2010 9:54 PM

    Well done on the agreement- I can only imagine the hard work that went into it.

    Can you tell us if anything was agreed regarding the ongoing University IT review? This has been causing stress for over a year within ISS- and I believe in faculty IT teams. Currently everything seems to be on hold pending the appointment of a new IT director- though we know from the job advert that about 40 redundancies (20% of staff) are on the cards.

  22. March 17, 2010 10:19 PM

    Some real facts

    The strike announcement was delayed on ucu website and blog last week because a.) The only person running the website was away that day and b.) the person running the blog was with his critically ill daughter in hospital that week and every blog anyway goes through a checking process before going up. Delays are unavoidable. If SWP mentioned it first, that does not make it a SWP decision. It was still the decision of UCU members at Leeds.

    The nature of the employment security proposal in October 09 is different to the nature of it now, thanks to your negotiators, and the groundbreaking elements are elsewhere, notably the statements on academic freedom, which are the first of their kind in UK HE. More later.

    The national negotiators did not drag the local ones back to the table. Ask your theoretical source to come on here, incognito if s/he wishes, and state what they believe happened. The reality is that both national and local negotiators worked together to get the University back to the negotiating table because that was the stated and elected position of the UCU, and no one person is able to act on such an important issue outwith the local rules.

    Compare the details of the agreement with the University’s published proposals of last week. Which would you prefer? Ours, or the slimmed down version they had to offer?

    What is the nature of your dissent? Do you recognise the value of this agreement? Your elected negotiators spent hours and days of mornings, afternoons, evenings and weekends achieving this. At every step they had to seek the sanction if their executive, their committee and their members. And still do their day jobs. We on the blog are proud to count them amongst our colleagues. Do we all agree on politics or tactics all of the time? No, but we value the democracy by which the UCU is run. If you can find others who would put in the hours to defend members, jobs, academic freedom, collegiality and educational principles in ways that have been drafted by, argued for and defended by our negotiators, then do, and stand them for election.

    You have been invited by Mark Taylor-Batty (not SWP) to discuss your theories with him on Tuesday. We’ll be happy for the national negotiators to contact you in person to debunk the nonesense you write (but prefer to believe) if you reveal your identity to Mark.

  23. Jarvis permalink
    March 17, 2010 10:28 PM

    I’m commenting here on some comments on an earlier blog post (https://leedsucu.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/dispute-qa/#comments) because it is relvant to some of the discussion here and also because this discussion is more up-to-date.
    I don’t know anything about the affiliation of our negotiators to political parties and quite frankly, I don’t care. What matters is that they are acting in the best interests of our members.
    A member of the University management in the earlier discussion has stated that she plans to move her affiliation to another of the unions within the University. I hope that she is aware that the local officers of this union are prepared for their members in FBS to reapply for their jobs at a lower grade than that at which they are already employed. I very much doubt that the officials of the local UCU would find this acceptable.

  24. March 17, 2010 10:33 PM

    You’ll see from the agreement that reviews will soon have to go through a new set of procedures, starting with some form of validation. Nothing should now be progressed with any review until then (though we hear noises that English are planning review meetings). We are aware of the anxieties in ISS, and hope to be able to discuss this with members there now more time is freed up.

  25. Another academic permalink
    March 17, 2010 10:57 PM

    Macho posturing? Nobody would get that around the female members of our committee and officers. I’ve seen nothing but dedication and tireless energy here in relation to, let’s face it, other people’s jobs.

    All of these UCU people are volunteers who have put hours and hours into this while sustaining their day jobs, and all you can turn it into is some misjudged and inaccurate attack on their masculinity. Get involved. Then be humbled by how much more generous their impulses are than your own. Then apologise.

    Nobody on the UCU side will get any rewards for winning. But they have made a huge difference. Recognise.

  26. March 18, 2010 8:51 AM

    Josef and dissenter – we need volunteers to staff the UCU stall at the staff benefits fair next week. As you are advocates of everyday unionism, please do offer your services. Anyone willing to help out can contact Sue Redhead.

  27. An academic permalink
    March 18, 2010 9:06 AM

    Dissenter – shame on you. You clearly want to believe a scenario that is disproved by the facts in front of us. It is a perspective that is fuelled by hatred, and blinkered to the actual achievements that a selfless group of exhausted volunteers have brought to the University community. A quite literally thankless task. Ann Blair and Christine Pickering were amongst the negotiating team. Are they SWP? No. Are they guilty of macho posturing? DO you think they would ignore the mandate to pursue negotiations just because people like you believe there was a SWP plot to ensure strikes before all else. Do you at least recognise that strikes have not ever materialised, which is the most obvious proof that your hate-fuelled perspective is plain wrong? Will you step forward to take on these negotiating responsibilities? Will you offer yourself as a UCU caseworker? Will you put yourself forward to be part of the committee? Of course not. You’d rather sit in the wings, believing whatever you want to. In fact, you’re probably not a member. The only people I know pushing the SWP conspiracy theory are management (see Vanessa Bridge’s recent intervention on the blog) and certain LUU executives. In other words, those with manifest anti-UCU agendas.

    Look at the 24 Feb agreement and compare it with the University’s published proposals of last week. Evidence beyond doubt that they slid away from their promises of 24 Feb. Look at the new agreement – it’s a new version of the 24 agreement with brass bolts on, a far improved version. By trying to beat the union, they ended up having to concede more. The threat of strikes clearly works, but the desire not to strike and win via negotiation was clearly the UCU agenda, and they have brought it home in spades. You continue to sit in the corner sulking, repeating your sad mantra of ‘SWP plot’, but I want to thank the negotiating team for what they have delivered. The University of Leeds is a better place today than it was when this week began. I’m proud to have been prepared to strike today, proud of my students who encouraged me (and one who had arranged to bring in flasks of tea to the picket lines) and proud that my union turned the strike threat into a victory.

  28. Support Monkey permalink
    March 18, 2010 9:07 AM

    @Dissenter

    I take it that the SWP story that your refering to is the one linked to by Vanessa elsewhere on this blog (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=20556)? That story was published at 4.33, 2 hours after the VC’s letter was published on Campusweb and emailed to all staff. Given that the industrial action had still not been ratified at a national level, UCU couldn’t (as I understand it) make any announcement.

    I fail to see how the SWP picking up on information that had released into the public domain, prior to official ratification, reflects badly on the UCU.

  29. Support Monkey permalink
    March 18, 2010 9:08 AM

    Apologies, the link should be:

    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=20556

  30. March 18, 2010 9:13 AM

    Indeed. We could not publish and inform management until national UCU sanctioned the strike, which is the appropriate procedure. Now, it was unlikely that the national UCU would not have sanctioned the strike, but what do you think the national UCU team thought once they read the VC’s letter?

  31. Josef K permalink
    March 18, 2010 10:14 AM

    I really don’t think the point I am making is being understood.

    E.g. if the administrative burden is being tackled – a timescale of, say, the last 5 years would seem to imply we haven’t been very successful and my particular notion of “everyday unionism” (not my phrase) was refering to concerted initiatives to address bureaucracy not manning stalls etc. – the two may not be mutually exclusive but I don’t think they are the same thing.

    But thanks for the opportunity to discuss this anyway. To repeat, my comments are not meant to distract from the recent success gained from UCU hardwork which is very welcome and much appreciated.

  32. March 18, 2010 10:29 AM

    Sorry Josef. Our responses are trying to demonstrate the actual reality. Day to day ucu work, when not distracted by disputes, is the very stuff you talk of. But a union can’t stop the university putting a procedure in place: we have to be consulted, yes, but that doesn’t mean we can stop it (and one of the reasons for the dispute was that a lot of that consultation wasn’t taking place), and if a new procedure impacts on terms and conditions then we have the right to discuss it in more detail. To object to it, we’d need to go to local dispute. If you want us to stop a procedure or initiative, you need to forward a motion to a GM, and be prepared to help get people behind a dispute.

    Now, we get buckets of documents to consult over, everything from parking to pensions to nursery provision, all the time. And that’s what we do most of the time. But who will be manning the stalls next week? The same volunteers who you want to be looking at all these procedures. The union operates more effectively with greater participation. If you want us to be more efficient, then you have to be prepared to join in, to free up more of the union executives’ time.

    Some of the great outcomes of the dispute is that we have more members, more people are aware of what we do, more people are actively participating, more people are active. So this should be a boost in the arm for everyday unionism.

    Please do let us know, by contacting Sue Redhead, which procedures, policies, protocols you’d like us to address if you perceive we are failing to do so already.

  33. Dr. Bartleby permalink
    March 18, 2010 12:47 PM

    Congratulations to all the negotiators on the deal achieved: a great result from a huge amount of work. But we must remember that the fight doesn’t stop here: it starts.

    Cuts are still coming, from central govt. and locally, and the conditions in which academics work are still being undermined by a long-standing process of bureaucratization, managerialism, and commercialization. The enshrinement of academic freedoms in the deal is very important, and now we all need to work hard to ensure it is respected by management.

    On a departmental and school level, many areas of the university are seeing whole series of measures and changes, all of which fall short of restructurings or reviews, that nevertheless imply worse conditions of work, including higher workloads, higher student-staff ratios, and more central control on what we do, particularly through panels, paperwork and initiatives. In some cases, the threat that “the suits are coming” is being used to make us volunteer to downgrade our work.

    UCU needs to give its school and dept. reps. the maximum support and guidance on how to respond in meetings and discussions and how to get behind members of staff who want to defend conditions of work. We need to know that when we reasonably refuse a piece of petty procedure or decline some new bright idea that we will have the support of our union. What happens at the micro-level over the next few months is vitally important in defending our role as academics.

    Well done and keep up the good work.

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