UCU Commons candidates are currently standing in the National Executive Committee elections, across the UK. Here you can read their collected election statements (ordered by last name):
Gareth Brown (UK-elected HE)
Across the last year, issues around workload, wellbeing, and health and safety – often racialised and gendered – have come into sharper relief; our employers’ veneer of ‘care for staff and students’ having washed completely away with September’s tide of fees and rent. The conflict between a marketized education sector and efforts to build a better world through providing and supporting teaching and research has never been so glaring as it is now.
At the same time, despite emerging from the conflagrations of 2018 with a more dynamic union, we’ve struggled to move beyond unproductive, adversarial decision-making. Longstanding factional rivalries have left us weaker and less able to develop the forms of organising and practice that could result in wins for our members. If we want a union that organises from the ground up, cares about its members, pushes for greater levels of democracy, and is capable of winning, we need a new approach. We need to strive for consensus and transparency and, above all else, we need to be able to listen – not only in our branches but in our national structures too.
I spent most of my twenties involved in environmental direct action. I returned to full-time education in 2011, undertaking doctoral research that explored the way in which people in political groups collectively imagine more desirable futures. In making the transition to an academic career, I faced multiple precarious contracts. My first piece of UCU casework was my own case: I forced my employer to offer me a permanent contract, setting a precedent that has now benefited a dozen or more colleagues. I am now a lecturer in the School of Business at the University of Leicester.
As branch co-secretary I take on significant amounts of casework. I negotiate with the university through our joint negotiation and consultation committee. With my colleagues, we have fought off several threats of significant redundancies and grown our branch three-fold. Like many of the newer activists involved in UCU – migrant workers, climate change activists, anti-fascists, or veterans of the anti-tuition fees campaigns who want to press the case for addressing social, economic and educational injustices – I bring to my local branch my wealth of experience from activist movements outside of academia such as organising through consensus, building action coalitions, and innovating tactics. If we’re going to move beyond the current immiseration of our work lives, and not only build a socially valuable and vibrant post-16 education sector but do so without losing sight of the task of caring for each other, we need to inject our national structures with these experiences too.
Nick Chancellor (UK elected HE)
I believe that UCU needs to take a strong stand to help those in our academic and academic related community who are most vulnerable to the neoliberal university agenda (including their engagement with broader practices like the hostile environment), such as casual and precarious employees, as well as immigrant staff, both EU and non-EU. Postgraduates should be recognized as employees, the contributions they make to research and teaching would be recognized as employment in almost any other context so we need to close the loophole which allows the universities to deny them the rights all workers should have. We also need to take a strong stand to fight racism and other forms of discrimination, this includes discrimination against transgender people, as trans rights are human rights. Pensions and workloads are also important issues, and we need to underscore to our membership how these issues intersect with others, and are not separate fights, but part of the same. For example, excessive workload on permanent staff means that they have less time and energy to support early career colleagues. Conversely, higher levels of casualisation mean that administration tasks become concentrated on fewer permanent staff.
If we wish to achieve any of these goals, we need to be strategic, strikes are our most powerful tool, but need to be used effectively and in coordination with other forms of industrial action. We also need to be sure to keep the students on our side, we have had strong student support for our strikes in the past, and this is crucial for us to be effective. This means we need to support actions the students are taking against the universities. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do, the students will remember if we stand with them now. Being strategic also means realistically assessing the willingness of our membership to engage in action and being sure not to burn our members out. When we take action it needs to be done so with clear goals, as well as clear targets for how it will impact the universities. We also should explore how we could take actions which affect the universities directly rather than indirectly through student satisfaction. This could include for example investigating whether research based activities such as REF could be targeted, this would have to be done carefully, and would not be easy to do, but is worth looking into. I am employed as a research fellow in the physics department at Durham University. I am standing for election as a member of the UCU Commons slate of candidates.
Jane Charlesworth (Representatives of disabled members HE)
As a postdoctoral researcher in the life sciences who has been employed on fixed-term contracts for the past ten years, at four different universities, and who is rapidly approaching the end of another contract in the middle of a global pandemic, I write this from a place of questioning my future in academia. Moving around every couple of years in order to pursue an academic career has intersected with my experience of anxiety and depression and has at times left me feeling deeply isolated and unwelcome. It must be a priority for us to resist and reduce our employers’ increasing reliance on casualised labour across both the FE and HE sectors, as my story is far from atypical among academics of my generation. I joined UCU shortly prior to the 2018 strike, because I was unaware for my first six years as a postdoc that I was eligible to join. I worked in a university-affiliated research institute and in a group located within a hospital, and UCU had no presence in either workplace. If elected to NEC, I would advocate for a greater UCU presence in these underrepresented pockets of academia, which are primarily staffed by precariously-employed workers and where bullying workplace cultures are liable to fester.
Since joining UCU, I quickly became more involved and now sit on the Warwick UCU branch committee as Disabilities Secretary. I strongly believe that us ordinary members are UCU and all of our voices and lived experiences are crucial to making decisions that benefit all. As a union member with a chronic health condition that is often disabling, and who has experienced periods of mental illness, I am absolutely committed to fighting ableism and discrimination on the grounds of disability in our workplaces. Too often disabled staff and students are pitted against each other by management, but we are stronger when we stand in solidarity to protect our common interests. Speaking from my own experience, short fixed-term contracts have made it far more difficult and stressful to work during times of illness, both mental and physical. I would therefore strongly advocate for no fixed-term contracts of less than three years, unless these are extensions to existing contracts. I am non-binary and stand unequivocally for the rights of trans and non-binary UCU comrades and students. Trans and non-binary gender identities often intersect with other forms of marginalisation, such as disability and casualisation and I will approach all workplace issues from an intersectional perspective. Transphobia serves to divide our union and labour movements at a time when we most need solidarity with each other.
Rohit Dasgupta (UK-elected HE)
I am a senior lecturer in global communication and development at Loughborough University. I have been an active trade union member for the last seven years first for the GMB (where I continue to be a member and am an equality officer for my local branch) and then followed by UCU when I started my first job as an hourly paid lecturer. Branch activism and getting involved in students strikes first led me to get involved with wider trade union and labour organising.
I have organised strike action at my school and most recently successfully led campaigns in 2019 and 2020. As a queer migrant from India I am also particularly interested in migrant rights, LGBT rights and intersectional struggles. Outside academia I am involved with various campaigns against islamophobia, xenophobia and resisting surveillance of international staff and students. I am also a Labour party activist and have been a Labour-Cooperative Party borough councillor since 2018 leading on our borough’s community wealth building, social integration and equality strategies. Representing one of the most deprived boroughs in the country I know first hand how important having secure employment and employment rights is for everyone. I am driven to create workplaces that are free from racism, bullying, homophobia, ableism and harassment. Issues of pension, casualisation and equality are all connected. In recent years we have seen for example attacks on our BAME and trans colleagues. It is more important than ever as trade unionist we stand up to all forms of hate.
I have a track record of activism and action on various issues. I have been nationally involved in campaigns to support inclusive relationship and sex education, academic freedom on campuses and speaking against all forms of human rights abuse. If elected on the NEC I promise to provide regular update to all members. I will organise nationally and regionally to tackle issues of casualisation and precarity, fight the hostile environment on our university campuses, combat the growing transphobia in our sector and tackle all forms of harassment and bullying. I will continue to strengthen our links with NUS and work on shared campaigns with our students.
Chris Grocott (Midlands HE and UK-elected HE)
I have been a member of our union for nearly fifteen years, having joined in 2006 when the union was founded. For seven years after that, I was precariously employed, jobbing around a number of HE institutions – Post-92s (MMU, DMU) and Pre-92s (Lancaster, Birmingham). Since 2013, I have been employed as a Lecturer in Management and Economic History at the University of Leicester School of Business.
I have been involved in campaigns against redundancies, casualisation, and harassment during my time in our union and have acted as a case worker. My experiences and expertise gained over my career could have led me to focus on any one of the issues which our union bargains over. Yet, I surprised myself by getting most involved in – what should be – the dry subject of pensions. Sadly, for UCU members pensions are a highly contested issue. It is in this area that I will bring considerable expertise to NEC.
At present I am:
UCU nominated Chair of the USS Advisory Board;
Member of the UCU Superannuation Working Group;
Leicester UCU Pensions Officer and member of the university’s pensions working group;
Member/Editor of USSbriefs.
I also have experience of working for the union when, between 2007-09, I was employed by Lancaster UCU as a Branch Organiser.
On NEC I will work for:
Strategic action on USS, tying industrial action to specific concrete goals;
Affordable pensions for precariously employed staff;
Focussing the priorities of NEC on issues that directly and materially affect staff such as precarity; safety (especially during crises such as Covid); pensions; and equality.
The challenges faced in decent pension provision reflect broader problems in our sector and society – inequality, discrimination, unfair pay, precarity, to name a few. We will only solve the problems of pension provision when we tackle these issues, and I will work on your NEC to advance our union’s campaigns on these issues.
David Harvie (Midlands HE & UK-elected HE)
I was elected to a casual vacancy on NEC – as an HE representative for the Midlands – in March 2020. I’m now standing for re-election. UCU is a big union – we are 130,000 – in a sector employing more than half a million people. The sector is broken and it’s breaking us and our students. University leaders are incapable of responding adequately to the myriad crises we face, both as educators and as citizens. The task falls on us – on UCU and other unions – to rethink universities and colleges for the 21st century, and to make that vision a reality. NEC and its subcommittees could and should play an essential part in this process of reimagining and remaking post-16 education. NEC is responsible for holding to account the general secretary and other UCU officers. Beyond this, and just as important, NEC has a key role in shaping our union’s policy (within parameters determined by annual congress), in making our union more responsive, more creative, more effective – in making it a force to be reckoned with. To do this, we need to work with Jo Grady, the general secretary.In my nine months on NEC I’ve discovered that it too is broken. Too many NEC members are more interested in petty point-scoring and grand-standing than in constructive debate. There’s too much aggression and not enough care. Moreover NEC and its workings are opaque. Along with other relatively new members, I am determined to change this culture.
We – elected representatives – must be more careful and more caring. NEC decision-making must be more open and transparent: the UCU members who elect us must be able to see how we spend our time. Some of our proposals for UCU accountability and transparency (https://medium.com/david-harvie/proposals-for-ucu-accountability-and-transparency-283add54fb) have been accepted – but we have more work to do. I believe that we can transform UCU such that it becomes an organisation that is capable of transforming our sector – and even our society. As part of that project, I am part of a new constellation or caucus within our union, UCU Commons. As well as voting for me, please consider voting for the other great UCU Commons candidates who are also standing for election as part of this slate. Web: www.medium.com/david-harvie
David Hitchcock (South Region HE)
I am a Senior Lecturer in early modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University. I am a historian of poverty, and a migrant academic from Canada. I could pay the steep costs of ‘leave to remain’ for just myself, but I have seen international students and staff driven from the UK by the ruinous expense. I know that fleecing migrant students and staff is only the beginning of the Home Office’s pernicious effects on education; by making institutions into internal surveillance and border police they have done incalculable damage to the sector and to student lives. I have also fought managerial reviews and redundancies and pushed against a grinding austerity which is winnowing away arts and humanities programmes at my university. My experiences propelled me into activism in my local branch and nationally on to the migrant members committee. This year I have seen senior management and the government conspire to put staff, students, and our communities at risk, through their insistence on filling student accommodation and through face to face teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. They lied to students and gaslit staff. They have created an enormous crisis in health, both physical and mental, and in trust. I also see a sector being asset-stripped by aggressive redundancies and by pivots to the ‘efficiencies’ of digital delivery.
If elected by UCU’s South region I will represent the issues of members across almost 100 diverse institutions, be available to branches, and confer regularly with the three regional committees. I want the NEC to be transparent, responsive, and effective. My priorities on the NEC would focus on three areas. First, workload; what constitutes ‘academic’ work and how should it be modelled and apportioned in a responsible manner. I believe this issue lies at the root of many of the challenges we face, particularly the crisis of precarity affecting early career scholars. Second, the hostile environment, and how we can unpick it from our institutions. Third, the union’s response to the push to funnel students and resources away from non-STEM subjects or from degrees seen as ‘low-quality’. This last development is a dangerous aspect of ‘culture war’ which is narrowing the educational horizons of thousands of students. Even in the face of management shamelessness and government malice, a strong and smart union can materially improve conditions for students and staff in education, and I can help this effort on the NEC. I am standing for election as a member of the UCU Commons slate of candidates. For more information about our core principles and platform we all share, please see www.UCUCommons.org. If you vote for me, please consider voting for the other excellent UCU Commons candidates.
John Hogan (UK-elected HE)
I am a Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations at ARU, Chair of our UCU Branch, as well as holding a Fellowship with the Harvard University Labor and Worklife program. While membership is now higher than ever, our union faces profound challenges. Pay, pensions and job security are under attack. Workplace stress is soaring. With the pandemic, health and safety are sacrificed to meet the venal pursuit of profit by University leaders.HE is now a major source of community transmission. General Secretary and President, Jo Grady and Vicky Blake, have led the way in exposing failure. Local Branches are mobilising. Unity is essential. Our core mission is to advance the interests of our members. To do so, we need to organise to win. This requires civil and considered dialogue. The establishment of UCU Commons represents a welcome opening, while established formations, with experience and commitment, have much to contribute.Experience informs my candidacy. At ARU, membership has grown by 70% in the last five years. We have not lost a single disciplinary case in six years. With the last three reorganisations and cuts programmes, we have prevented compulsory redundancies at every turn. With the Covid crisis, we were the first UCU branch to declare an official dispute. We won.
We have achieved all of this because the branch leadership enjoys the trust of members, in no small part because of the long history of case work victories, and the expert support from our UCU Regional Official. We need to be smart and strategic. There are a range of tactics on offer. Strikes require careful planning and execution, with clear objectives and realistic timely assessments of what can and cannot be achieved. We need to embrace alternative and complementary tactics. With bullying, workplace stress and corruption out of control, the judicious and aggressive application of legal action and the devotion of resources to forensic accounting, could be used to place our “masters” under pressure. Imposing transparency and showcasing errant behaviour in the media and courts might well prove productive in enforcing better behaviour. Likewise, democratising the academy, to elect leaders and University Governors, could give us the leverage to check the invasion by private business interests into our world of public service.
There is much to be done, to advance the aim of progressive education. We must not lose sight of the climate emergency or the fall out from Brexit. Internationalism is key. With the reunification of Ireland in view, it is time to open up discussions with our sister unions in the Republic. Solidarity with the Palestinian people must intensify. Following the BLM movement, to meet the challenge of de-colonialising education, we need to put our own house in order.
Emma Battell Lowman (SHE/HER/THEY) (Midlands and UK-elected HE)
My name is Emma Battell Lowman, and I am currently the vice-chair of the University of Leicester UCU branch, and a fixed term contract teaching fellow in the School of History, Politics and International Relations. I am a historian and sociologist who has been proudly living the East Midlands since migrating to the UK in 2009 from Canada. I began working in UK HE in 2011 while completing my PhD, and have direct experience in both pre- and post-92 HE institutions. Previously, I have worked in the Canadian civil service including as a Higher Education analyst. Education and participation in Indigenous resurgence and decolonizing work in the settler colonial nation-states of Canada and Australia is what motivates me to work to tackle institutional and systemic inequality in UK HE. In addition to helping lead our branch’s COVID response, including a Health and Safety dispute that held our institution to account for staff and student safety,
I have brought a strong focus to the needs of precarious workers – like myself. You may remember my energetic turn as the #WalrusOfRighteousProtest during the 2019-20 strikes, and I also work hard to develop collaborative, compassionate and creative approaches to addressing key issues in HE. During the last strikes, I organised and facilitated a compassionate listening meeting between the university executive and casualised and precarious members. The executive’s only role was to listen as the members shared their precarity stories of excellence, struggle, hardship, and heartbreak. We all know the conditions that have overcome UK HE over the last two decades. There are fewer positions opening, fewer permanent positions, increasing precarity, stagnation of wages, rampant overwork, burnout, and stress. Rather than seeing these as insurmountable, I choose to work from an ethic of compassion and a practice of critical hope. Specifically informed by critical Indigenous scholarship and expertise, I believe in the power of diverse approaches to making change, from diplomacy in the spirit of generosity, to taking direct action to hold power to account. In this, I value building trust, clear communication, and mutual aid as cornerstones of any social movement, including trade unionism. As an elected representative to NEC, you can count on me to be clear and responsive, to transparently present and passionately argue for my vision of what the UCU should be, while also diligently serving the interests of UCU members, especially the most vulnerable and precarious. I want to bring my expertise in iterative, constructive communication and community building processes to both the UCU, as we work to improve our own collective approaches, and the relationships between branches and employers.
Eric Lybeck (UK-elected HE)
I am a historical sociologist of universities, a Presidential Fellow at the University of Manchester’s Institute of Education and have worked for some time at furthering the democratization of the way higher education institutions are governed. A committed member and activist within UCU, especially since the 2018 USS strikes, I have advocated for a particular idea of what our union could and should be moving forward. My work in the history of universities suggests we could supplement our relation to university management as a trade union – which is one of employee/employer in conflict – to also conceptualise our union as a professional association (in line with 2013 UCU report on Professionalism). From this angle, we are all equal members of our universities, colleges and institutions and we have delegated decision-making authority to management for certain (limited) coordination functions. This means university management should be working for us, our communities, our students – not the other way around! Having organised teach-outs and extramural public engagement during strikes and after, I can identify that many of our basic requirements necessary to pursue our professional work are the very things managers have recklessly stripped away. These include: TIME, SPACE and COFFEE – not metrics, surveillance and distrust.
Accordingly, I think UCU – working with other campus unions, including NUS, along with stakeholder groups from host communities – should invest resources and activities toward challenging and restoring self-governance and professional autonomy. If these traditions and structures do not exist already – for example, in post-92 universities, FE colleges, and amongst professional service staff – we should lobby to create these structures moving forward. I see this agenda as aiming for a fully inclusive model of membership, including full incorporation and support for casualised staff. We are the Union and We are the University. These amount to the same thing. To these ends, I am running for NEC on the new UCU Commons slate to encourage a mass mobilization of all academics and staff on these terms initially, and then those co-created in future through pluralist and democratic deliberation. I have been arguing the case for governance reform since 2018 as a founding member of @USSbriefs. I am also an executive committee member on the Council for Defence of British Universities (CDBU) and I am an active member of Academic Senate at the University of Manchester. In response to the mismanagement of the university sector during the Covid19 crisis, I recently began a campaign to #ElectOurVCs and I will be working with the union and related organisations to lobby for this and related policy changes at both local institutional levels and nationally, with (and against) government, policy-wonks and media.
Chris O’Donnell (Honorary Secretary & President, Scotland and UK-elected HE)
I am a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and the Branch Secretary at UWS. UWS is a post 92 University, as an institution, we educate and impact in our local community, with many of our students coming from Scotland’s most deprived areas. I am a working-class academic, someone proud of their heritage, its impact on my commitment to fairness, equality in gender, race, role, and the right to be valued. I am standing for two Scottish roles as they have a seat at the UK wide NEC and HEC.
It’s important that the lived experience of Scottish post 92 HE is represented at NEC.
For me HE is a job, I know that many of us see it also see it as a calling and its this commitment, that is used to exploit you. Many of us are employed precariously, overworked, our Gestalt devalued, debased and quantified into metrics. The COVID-19 crisis brings that exploitation into sharp focus, members are being compressed from every angle, instructed to be agile, swift, creative, world-leading. Whilst support students in crises when we are ill ourselves, our commitment to the values of HE that attracted us to this profession are used to manipulate us. Our lived experiences are a lens that brings clarity to your undoubted skills and commitment to HE but that brings sharp focus to the malady that working in HE has become. The university’s responses to the pandemic are to pressure you into accepting, an increasing workload, unmitigated stress, mental health crises, and the constant threat of redundancy. This against a backdrop of institutional managers using increasingly precarious contracts, supporting an attack on your pension, cultivating the fetishization of the measurement of our “productivity”, and perpetuating a narrative that you are never good enough. I see members that are “the University experience”, you are talented, you are changing, shaping lives, and the wider communities that we are so strongly a part of. I want our union to deliver a vision of academia that reclaims the University as a workplace that delivers learning, research and a cultural voice. It should be a workplace free from, unfeasible workloads, precarity, racism, inequality, bullying, harassment, abuse, and fear.
I am deeply committed to providing effective representation, I have a reputation as an active and engaged member, committed to defending transparent governance, accountability and equality. I have been inspired by several talented, committed colleagues from across HE who bring with them an immense skill, diverse lived experiences and commitment to making our Union function for your good.
Thank you for reading.
Bijan Parsia (North West HE and UK-elected HE)
I am a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Manchester where I have been continuously employed since joining as a lecturer in 2006. I am standing for election as a member of the UCU Commons slate of candidates. For more information see www.UCUCommons.org. I came to the UK from a very precarious (though pretty good in the last few years) situation in the US having shifted fields from Philosophy to Computer Science. During my (overly extended) PhD studies I developed several medical long term conditions that affect me to this day. UK academia felt like a different world. There was no tenure but instead there were labour protections over a broader swath of my colleagues including professional and service staff. And I could be a union member! University unions are far less common in the US and the idea of having a *sector wide* union blew my mind. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have landed in a secure and supportive role. That my situation is increasingly becoming the rare exception instead of the norm is a fundamental challenge for UCU.
Goals as NEC member:
I aim to improve UCU strategizing and governance. The second round of strikes last year (Feb-March) caught me and my near friends utterly by surprise. The size, scope, and timing did not make sense to us esp whether there’d been no additional consultation nor much (in our experience) build up. Several colleagues who’d never missed a strike day in their careers felt uncomfortable fully participating because the effect would have been to destroy the first year for our students with no plan on how to make them whole.
Then the Fighting Fund levy in its initial, ungraduated form made me extremely concerned about both UCU decision making and communication. The outpouring of donations from members and branches was heartening, but lurching from crises to one off solutions is not adequate for the challenges we face.
UCU has made great strides toward building a long term vision and it is welcomely cantered on the most marginalised amongst us. But the more radical the vision, the more difficult it is to build broad support. The activist heart of UCU is a small fraction of the membership which itself is a small fraction of the direct stakeholders in HE. Each circle is, on average, more invested in the status quo. To achieve our lofty goals we must bring a substantial portion of the wider community to our view. I believe this requires UCU to be and to be seen as both well-run and broadly effective. That is what I will work toward.
Mark Pendleton (Representatives of LGBT+ members)
Our union should be proud of its role in fighting for LGBT+ equality, often leading the trade union movement. I pledge to continue that work, campaigning against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia as I have done for more than 20 years since becoming active in student, queer and refugee movements in my home country of Australia.
I am currently a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield and branch secretary. I have led on equality issues as branch equality officer at Sheffield (2018-2020), on LGBT+ members standing committee (since 2019), and on NEC (since 2020). My commitment to driving progressive change extends to non-union activities – I co-authored the Royal Historical Society’s recent report on LGBT+ historians and history and am involved in various community organisations and campaign groups. I have also been active in migrants’ rights and anti-casualisation campaigns at Sheffield and currently lead our branch’s gender and ethnicity pay gap negotiations.
While the fight against homophobia is not over, the key priority for LGBT+ communities now is to oppose attacks on our trans and non-binary siblings. Anti-trans views are founded in lies and scaremongering, which is why they are universally abhorred by the LGBT+ organisations our communities have formed over many decades. All LGBT+ people know from experience how stoking misunderstanding and fear of difference develops into hatred and violence. Like racism, ableism, misogyny and xenophobia, transphobic views divide our union and work against our members’ collective interests. As a gay migrant living with HIV, I know that our equality work (and our union) must be intersectional or we are divided and doomed. For trade unionism to mean anything, we must believe that an injury to one is an injury to all.
Within UCU, I have campaigned with other newer members on the NEC for greater transparency. Elected representatives must be accountable to you if we are to build a more inclusive union. We also need to be responsive to change, be creative and smart in taking action and lead the fight for a transformed post-16 education system, whether that’s defending jobs, abolishing REF or improving PGR members’ conditions. This role represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other people who transcend normative expectations around gender and sexuality, but anyone can vote. I ask for your vote as someone who has experience fighting for all of the LGBT+ community, and for equality, justice and change to the benefit of all members. I encourage you to preference other candidates in this category who will also defend all LGBT+ members’ rights.
Ben Pope (Representatives of casually employed members)
I’m currently a fixed-term researcher in medieval history at Manchester University, and since starting my PhD in 2010 I’ve experienced many aspects of the tragedy and farce which is precarity in higher education in both the UK and Germany. Through recent work with the Manchester Anti-Precarity Network and Manchester University UCU I’m well aware of the additional difficulties faced by, amongst others, precarious staff with caring responsibilities, disabilities, and/or without the means to bridge between fixed-term contracts which are now the real ‘qualification’ for progress in so many HE career paths. The enormous costs of precarity to individual health and wellbeing and to the diversity and sustainability of the sector are now well known, but employers continue to insist that supposed realities of workforce planning make large-scale precarity unavoidable. We must counter this narrative more directly. I’m therefore standing for election primarily because I wish to work with comrades to develop an anti-precarity campaign rooted in the fact that precarious work is always a transfer of risk from employer to employee.
Temporary staff must be compensated for the high risk of redundancy which is forced onto them so that employers can escape the often negligible risk of reduced workforce efficiency (defined in narrowly economic terms).This risk sharing could take the form of paid career development opportunities in addition to the original contract (e.g. internships and fellowships). But any form of compensation should encourage universities to insure themselves against the risk of additional costs by employing more permanent staff and by working with research funders to change funding models. Workforces could and would be managed very differently if exploitation through temporary employment and ever-expanding workloads was not the default. Whatever its eventual outcome, a campaign for risk-sharing compensation would immensely strengthen our existing anti-precarity and workload campaigns by clearly demonstrating to colleagues, students and the wider public that workforce planning is not a binary choice between permanence and precarity for individuals, but a question of who bears the cost of managing the systemic risk.
Whilst some temporary staff will always be necessary, the exploitation of staff through risk dumping is never inevitable, and never acceptable. I’m a member of the new UCU Commons network and share its principles on equality and transparency, and on the importance of embedding industrial action in a wider strategy to win real and lasting change in our workplaces. I see a campaign for risk sharing as a key part of that strategy. I would also like to be a voice on the NEC for my fellow autistic members, and to advocate for the value of neurodiversity in decision-making processes. For more detail on my ideas, please see www.PopevsPrecarity.com.