UCU Commoners: Why we are organising

UCU Commons began in the autumn of 2020 as an unnamed and informal group of staff and early career researchers who are all active in the University and College Union. This group initially developed by word of mouth and by invitation and rapidly grew to its present size. We quickly realised that we shared an important set of core values and several goals. Most crucially, what we have in common is a sense that our union—its structures and its processes, its organising and its campaigning—can be improved, and through this, that we can transform post-16 education. 

In the near term, the most important of our goals is to make the national structures of our union more democratic, accountable, and transparent. We are standing a slate of candidates in the 2020-21 UCU National Executive Committee elections to do exactly this. We organise to strengthen our union, and to articulate a vision of education as a common good.

Our choice to name ourselves using the language of ‘the commons’ was an easy one. The name refers to commons both in the historical sense (common spaces and common rights), and in the political sense (common ground and common good). ‘Commons’ and ‘commoning’ accurately describe both our politics and our methods. Our name reflects how we function, as a non-hierarchical collective which contains ‘constellations’ within it, working towards many shared goals but also operating independently to pursue specific campaigns. We have common values, but we won’t always agree on everything and as elected representatives we won’t all vote the same way all the time. We have different priorities and politics and you can find out more about who we are here. Constellations of UCU Commons are already forming to campaign around anti-precarity, around electing the academic leadership of universities, and around support for trans people. We organise to campaign together on diverse issues both in the union and beyond it, informed by our values.

We think all UCU members deserve a functional NEC which acts like what it is: a body of elected representatives who are there to represent and serve the membership of the union. We want an NEC which publishes its decisions and which makes transparent exactly how those decisions were arrived at. We want an NEC which devotes less effort to antagonistic bickering and less time to passing motions that sound appealing, but which do nothing to improve conditions for members. We want that revitalised NEC to help develop both national and local industrial strategies which can achieve real wins and concrete gains for members, and we want to protect vulnerable, marginalised, and precarious members from assaults on their rights and dignity in their workplaces at the same time. We organise to clean up the NEC.

We also want to strengthen branches in practical ways and to grow the membership of the union. There is no more urgent moment for this activity than now. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education will be felt for years to come, and without strong, resilient, and smart action from unions and their members we will witness the rapid disintegration of education in the UK in the coming years. We think the best way to do this is to put forward a positive alternative vision for the ways in which post-16 education can serve society—not only the needs of business and the economy—in the twenty-first century. We organise to better engage our existing members, and to encourage workers in education to join the union, particularly those on precarious contracts.

If all this sounds good to you and if you share our values, please sign up to our mailing list and think about joining us. It does not matter whether you are a seasoned branch activist, a new member, or someone about to join UCU for the first time. Whoever you are, we believe you will have valuable skills and experiences. We are much stronger together than we are apart.

Blogpost image based on image by mounsey, Pixabay.

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Published by David Hitchcock

Senior Lecturer in early modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. Canadian. Some research interests: vagrancy, utopian thinking, Atlantic history, popular culture