The nominations have been collected and candidates announced for the upcoming UCU general secretary elections, following the resignation of former GS Sally Hunt due to health reasons. Above all, we need a leadership that is willing to fight for our sector against the bosses and Tory government.
The “continuity” (i.e. right-wing) candidate is Mark Waddup, current National Head of Policy and Campaigns and unelected, self-appointed, acting general secretary after Hunt’s departure. Waddup was also one of the main architects of the UCU national leadership’s betrayal of our pension strike in 2018.
He recently blamed in-fighting between “various factions and sects [about] the rights and wrongs of old battles” for the failure of our last pay ballot to reach the threshold for legal strike action. He called for a “united front” between moderates and left-wingers, which is code for the left putting up and shutting up while the right continues to rule the roost.
Waddup not only helped derail the largest strike in our union’s history, but played a lamentable role at our last conference in manoeuvring and bullying delegates to prevent the union tops from facing a no-confidence motion. It was not factionalism amongst members, but the wrecking role of the old leadership that demoralised our union and scuppered our last pay ballot.
The two other candidates are from the left of the union, including Jo McNeill, who is backed by the UCU Left faction and who previously tried and failed to unseat Hunt in 2017. Unfortunately, the UCU Left has been discredited for its failure to seriously oppose the right-wing leadership, or fight to push our union in a more radical direction in the face of some of the worst attacks on higher education in living memory.
By contrast, Jo Grady (Sheffield University) came to prominence during the UCU strike, as she was a co-founder of the USSbriefs website, which became a news source and banner for left-wing UCU members who became active during the pensions strike. She is therefore seen as a fresh face with a proven track record in struggle.
Grady is popular amongst the most radical and active elements in the membership. Her candidacy announcement on social media received hundreds of engagements, whereas McNeill’s received dozens. However, her campaign materials seem to emphasise her working-class background and her family’s history of union activism (her father was a miner active during the 1984-5 NUM strike) more than actual politics and policies.
Our union needs a leadership that can channel the energy and radicalism that we displayed in 2018 into a concerted fight against the Tory government, with a view to linking up with students, fellow university workers (such as cleaners and support staff) and colleagues across the public sector to fight for our shared interests.
If either of the ‘left’ candidates are to represent a break with the past, they must abandon the failed strategies of isolating our struggles, and chasing after amiable negotiation with the university bosses. With a programme of solidarity and class struggle, they could re-enthuse all the class fighters who emerged from our union in the course of our historic strike and turn our union into a powerful force in the fight against Tory rule.
Joe Attard, UCU (personal capacity)