BREAKING: Strikes to continue as Edinburgh UCU rejects UUK deal

The University and College Union (UCU) Edinburgh branch have rejected the proposed agreement reached yesterday by the UCU and Universities UK following six days of talks and three weeks of strike action.

In a meeting of the UCU Edinburgh branch led by President Gordon Reid, 300 striking staff came together to discuss the proposal reached last night between UCU and UUK.

The deal would see changes to the pension put on hold, instead re-opening talks about pensions in 2020. This has been criticised by staff as merely stalling the changes, rather than opposing them outright. The deal also includes an independent re-evaluation of the deficit of the pension scheme.

The meeting at Teviot Row House gave live updates on Edinburgh UCU’s consensus to Dr Suzanne Trill, the branch’s Honorary Secretary, who was attending the 2pm meeting of Branch representatives in London.

Asked by Dr Trill to confirm the position of Edinburgh in light of the proposed agreement, there was a unanimous vote to reject it, reiterating the consensus reached at the branch’s general meeting on Friday 9th March.

UCU Edinburgh also rejected the premise of unpaid labour, in response to the proposed agreement between UCU and UUK that the former would “encourage its members to prioritise the rescheduling of teaching in order to minimise the disruption to students”. The President of UCU Edinburgh summarised the group’s fervent refusal, stating “we totally reject that”.

UCU Edinburgh also agreed on further strike action. The timing of such action was discussed at length, and when directly asked when this should take place, there was an immediate and collective answer: “exams”. Concerns were voiced that leaving this second wave of strike action until May or June could cause a fall in momentum and create the impression that this is not an ongoing issue demanding immediate resolution. The problem of varied semester dates country-wide and different exam schedules between departments of the University of Edinburgh was also raised.

Whilst the exact dates for the next round of strikes is therefore not yet decided, strikes will continue tomorrow in Edinburgh, the meeting decided. Students can expect a strong turn-out at the picket lines, as the President called for an all-day presence of striking staff.

The concern over the negative impact of the strikes on students, however, received particular attention. Many members called for more coordination with students, and another stood up to thank the show of solidarity that they had provided, including today’s occupation of the George Square lecture theatre.

Suzanne Trill then asked for proposals for future action. Suggestions included boycotting open days, admissions, pre-admission visits, post-offer visit days and the upcoming Research Audit. There was also a lively debate over a data strike (refusing to input student attendance onto the EUCLID portal) and a strike on publishing academic papers.

In each instance, consideration was expressed for the impact on students and staff. This included the particular financial hardships of PhD students, the visa requirements of international students, and the academic pressures on Early Career Researchers.

The meeting also voted in favour of putting pressure on the Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson to show support for Edinburgh UCU’s rejection of the proposed agreement. This anticipates Universities UK’s demand for vice-chancellors to say whether they will back the deal by Wednesday afternoon. The mounting pressure on Edinburgh’s Vice-Chancellor also follows the joint statement between University of Kent, UCU University of Kent branch and Kent Union on 9th March, expressing concern about the proposed changes to the pension scheme, as well as their worry for the impact of industrial action on students.

Suzanne Trill also relayed back calls for a ‘Shit List League Table of Crap Employers’ at the London combined branches meeting. The call for examples of the varied and poor level of support from management during this time was received with laughter from the UCU Edinburgh group.

In affirming their position to “maintain the pension’s status quo”, Edinburgh UCU joins the branches of Kent, Exeter, and UCL, who have being using the hashtag #NoCapitulation to express their frustration and disappointment with the proposed agreement. An open letter rejecting the UCU/UUK agreement has also been established, with over 9950 signatures (at the time of writing).

The meeting closed with the words of the President; “Get Ready for Sustained Action – It’s our dispute and we’ll decide when it’s settled”.

Since the end of the meeting, UCU has announced via twitter that “Strikes remain on as UCU rejects proposals”: Edinburgh’s voice has been heard, and will be heard at the picket lines until this dispute is resolved.

 

Image: Andrew Perry

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