Questions and answers

There have been loads of excellent questions during hustings and elsewhere. Here are some answers.


Q: Why didn’t UCU support our legal action against the USS directors?

A: The real question – if we’re honest – is why UCU didn’t take a single case to court for members since 2019, despite the incumbent promising “precedent-setting legal challenges”? In particular there was no court action:

  • during Covid to support people being threatened with the sack pre-vaccine, under the Employment Rights Act 1996 section 44,
  • against punitive deductions, under common law or the European Convention, despite Congress motions requiring it,
  • against discriminatory dismissals up and down the country, which branches and individuals are left to cope with,
  • and indeed, against the pension cuts, their discriminatory impact, and fossil fuels, where we organised massive action.

UCU used to fight for members, like UCU v University Stirling [2015] UKSC 26, which lost at every instance until it won at the Supreme Court, to protect job security. But sadly, since 2019, UCU’s leadership has failed.

We’re proud of the pension case against the USS directors, and what we’re doing now to change USS governance, because:

  • we exposed the nonsense USS valuation for every university management to see, and exposed their potential liability under the Equality Act 2010 for the discriminatory impact of the cuts,
  • as we proceeded, the predictions of nonsense deficits turned into surpluses,
  • the cuts were reversed the week we got leave to the Court of Appeal,
  • we established a precedent for a “beneficiary derivative claim” to hold directors to account
  • we settled on terms that we wouldn’t continue an appeal to the Supreme Court in return for a reduction of costs, and promised not to relitigate (because the USS directors knew we might win),
  • we joined the climate litigation movement that knows we must act to save our planet, ending coal, oil and gas.

Even though we didn’t succeed on procedure, and we failed to get a ruling on fossil fuel divestment, we did what was right, and we won 90% of our goals outside of court. Our social security is too important, and our planet is too important, to do nothing. Even though we had to work for years, all for free, and donated a lot our own money, we would do the same again. All the UCU members and colleagues who crowdfunded, an average £39 each, are and should rightly be proud that we acted when central UCU failed to.

The bottom line is, if we vote for it, we will restore a functioning UCU that actually works for its members.

Last, the internal politics at UCU over this case were simple: the General Secretary should have followed the NEC and Congress to support our case, and publicise it, when it had over £30 million cash on hand in the bank according to its accounts. That’s why members pay their dues. All this stuff about the UCU legal scheme is a distraction – we fundamentally disagree that UCU’s rulebook required application to the legal scheme before UCU acts. Our QC also spoke to UCU staff for over an hour (the incumbent General Secretary didn’t show up) explaining the case, including why it had a real prospect of success. But the incumbent General Secretary did nothing, just as there have been no other court cases. Moreover, in 2022 the GS opposed the collective action that contributed to the pension cuts being reversed, preferring mapping exercises.


Q: How would/do candidates address the existential threat of climate change in their work and programme?

A: This is so important, because our union is about changing our working lives, and the society around us. To paraphrase Sharan Burrow, the past ITUC general secretary, there are no jobs, nor pay, nor pensions, on a dead planet. Much of my recent research, teaching, and political advocacy has focused on the regulatory causes of climate damage, from energy, transport, to buildings, to agriculture, and the solutions we need to defend a living planet.

So, from day one I will shift UCU itself to 100% clean energy, as an example for every other university, college and workplace. We’ll make the investments, and then profit through lower bills, because by now we must know: green means gain. I’m the only candidate promising to do this so far, and it’s so important because, if you vote, we will bargain with every university and college for them to do the same. We’ll go for “now zero” fossil fuels – not “net zero by 2050” when we’re already dead. Changing student curriculums are fine, but it also passes the buck. It’s the adults who really need to shape up and act. That’s us, now, first at UCU.

Second, as we bargain and lead by example, we’ll score universities on getting to 100% clean energy, we’ll rank them, and we’ll publicise those rankings. I want clean energy rankings integrated with the Guardian, Times, and other tables so students can choose between polluters and our planet. We’ll build on the existing People & Planet tables, and work with them to achieve major social change.

Third, we’ll change every pension fund and endowment fund to divest fossil fuels, and shift our workers’ capital into clean energy. Vitally, we’ll write shareholder voting policies for our pension and endowment funds that drive every company – carmakers, construction, generation, the lot – to adopt 100% clean energy too. And by the way, if you vote, we’ll do the same for labour rights, so that our workers’ capital is used to actually promote workers’ rights. That’s how we win our future back.