Members of UCU Commons come from diverse backgrounds and vastly differing levels of experience within UCU. Some of us have been active within UCU for many years, others since the USS Strikes in 2018, and yet more within in the last year or two. Our varying levels of experience within our Union to date are a positive; we bring both institutional memory and new ideas from a range of activist contexts beyond the union to the table.
We count many branch representatives among our members, and we’ve been involved in winning resounding victories for our branches – for example, against compulsory redundancies, and some of our fights are ongoing (for example, at the University of Leicester, where much of the branch leadership are proud #ucucommoners and are fighting off vicious redundancy proposals). We have fought for visa reimbursements and against the hostile environment. Some of us have experience of sitting on our regional branches, and six of us currently sit on UCU’s NEC and HEC, with 12 more standing for election this year. We also sit on various Equality Standing Committees within UCU – Women, Migrant, Black and LGBT+, as well as on the Superannuation Working Group.
It is no secret that several founder members of UCU Commons were integral to the campaign to elect Jo Grady as General Secretary in 2019, which she won with a landslide share of the vote. More recently, some UCU Commons members were involved in the campaign to elect Gareth Brown as Vice President: a campaign he did not win, but one to nevertheless be proud of.
We’ve also been organising and mobilising outside of the Union, some of us for many years. Most recently and pressingly, several of us have joined—and even launched—local COVID-19 Mutual Aid groups. One of our members co-founded MadCovid, a shared space for grassroots mental health survivor/service user projects which also includes practical support such as a Hardship Fund. Many of us volunteer with local and national charities such as the Samaritans, foodbanks, homeless and housing charities, and co-operative shops.
Some of us have been activists for decades: with various organisations within the alter-globalisation movement; members were at the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy in London in the 1980s; and in LGBT+/HIV and AIDS campaigns such as ACT UP in London in the early 1990s.
We all firmly believe that education is a right, a public good, and a force for social betterment in and of itself. As such, we’ve been active as members of organisations which push for education’s structures to better reflect its social roles; including the Council for the Defence of British Universities, USSBriefs, the Manchester Anti-Precarity Network, and organisations which aim to make university spaces more inclusive and positive for all, including the Volunteer University, the ‘Better Governance’ Manchester campaign, the International and Broke campaign, and the Royal Historical Society LGBT+ working group, among others.
UCU Commoners help lead branches, they do casework, they negotiate with management, they document and critique institutional practices. They also organise beside and beyond the union’s structures. What we do both inside and outside of UCU—activism for migrants, the LGBTQIA+ community, disabled and mentally ill people, homeless people, migrants, the most vulnerable in society—all informs and represents who we are as a group. Universities, and our trade unions, do not exist in a vacuum. Activism in our branch and on regional and national committees are one way that some of us contribute: others have a wealth of lived experience and activism in society at large, and our movement is only strengthened by contributions from across this spectrum.