I was in attendance at the recent UCU Congress in Manchester as an observer, meaning that I was in the hall but did not have the right to speak or vote. From my notes, this is what happened on the Wednesday and Friday of the event.
The motions for Congress are published on the UCU website. The contentious ones were 7, 10, 11, and B19. The union full time staff were leafleting delegates on the way in on Wednesday to say that these motions would be a breach of the collective agreement between UCU as an employer and Unite as the staff union, because they would either affect terms and conditions or would deny staff members due process.
Motions 7 and B19 were modified by their authors to withdraw the contentious elements, but in its original form Motion 7 objected to the “unilateral endorsement [of the offer] on the ballot ‘paper’”, which could be read as alleging a one-sided manipulation of the vote [edited 3 June], and B19 (which is a Sheffield motion but was also submitted by Bath) wanted to discuss the number of full time officials who would be elected rather than appointed.
Motion 10 demands that Sally Hunt resign as General Secretary, and Motion 11 would “censure” her. The view of Unite as the staff union is that since she is an employee this should not be dealt with as a Congress matter, but as a disciplinary or equivalent.
The first business where this mattered was a challenge to the agenda to bring B19 back on to the order paper, since it had been ruled out of order. It was ordered back on, and all the staff promptly walked out. The Chair suspended the session, since there were no staff to service it, and the microphones were switched off. At that point, some delegates were shouting from the podium and the floor about this being “our” union and proposing to continue business, while other delegates were walking out in support of the staff.
The staff then held a union branch meeting to discuss what to do. A compromise was hammered out with the movers of Motions 7 and B19, where they withdrew the elements which Unite found objectionable and business restarted. Motions 7 and B19 were passed as amended. When business got to Motion 10, the staff walked out again.
Motion 10 is from Exeter University UCU, who refused to make any changes or withdraw the motion, though they did offer to take the motion “in parts” so that elements could be voted on separately [edit 3 June]. Their delegates have written an account of what happened.
The last word we had on Wednesday was that Unite were in dispute with UCU as the employer.
Thursday was allocated for business related to further and higher education separately, so the business of the union as a whole recommenced on Friday morning. Normally, when there is uncompleted business on one day, it is not picked up at the start of the next day. Instead, the next day’s business starts on the planned timetable, and if there is time at the end, we return to any motions we missed on the first day.
A number of late motions had been added to the timetable, which were to be taken before the contentious motions 10 and 11. It was proposed that instead of starting with the scheduled business, we instead take these new motions followed by 10 and 11. This was done and the motions passed were motions reiterating the right to subject elected officers of UCU to criticism, and criticizing the “Unite staff walkouts” as undermining “UCU democratic structures and reputation”; laying down some principles on selecting people for the democracy review which had been established by motion B19; deciding to hold a special one-day Congress to transact the business which was not dealt with at this one.
The Chair then presented a statement which had been agreed between the NEC and the Unite branch for union staff which asked for the withdrawal of Motions 10 and 11. There was extensive discussion on this, and many questions asked about the consequences of withdrawing or not. In the end, it was moved that the question be put, and it was decided to leave Motions 10 and 11 on the order paper.
The Chair called Motion 10 and all the staff promptly left the room. The Chair suspended business for thirty minutes, which she interpreted as thirty minutes plus the one hour lunch break which would have happened at the time. There were various discussions over that period and when we came back into the hall at the appropriate time, one of the national staff took the microphone to give an “update”. He informed us that the staff were still not prepared to come into the hall, so Congress was over.
At that point, the national offical was slow-handclapped by a large number of people in the hall who also started shouting “Shame on you”. The microphones were switched off so a group of delegates gathered near the front with the aim of continuing Congress themselves, and ran it using a human microphone method.