Over the past months and years, your UCU branch has been incredibly busy in what has been a challenging environment, both locally and within the sector. Nationally, the Trade Union Bill is seeking to undermine the collective power of unions like ours. Locally, we are representing the interests of our members throughout an unprecedented avalanche of problematic issues: programme closures, workloads, grade reviews, electronic marking and feedback, PG teaching grades, casualisation, gender pay gap, health and safety, stress and mental health to name just a few. We are aware that the tangible results of our work on your behalf often go unnoticed! This is because we have limited resources and often we need to choose between doing our job and boasting about it!
In terms of recruitment and retention of members, we remain in a very strong position. Our membership ratio is 100% or close to 100% in many departments, and figures look very healthy, with net increases across the institution. This is despite the loss of many members through voluntary redundancy over the past few years. However, we still want to improve on our impressive figures. Our aim is to represent every single one of our colleagues. This is the best response we can give to hostile measures like the Trade Unions Bill: a stronger union that can speak for all of us; a stronger local union with the force of an entire workforce participating, in the driving seat. These are not times for despondency given the context, nor for complacency given our local strength. We want more so that we can do even more.
For these reasons, we regularly run Recruitment Weeks. You might have seen us this month, raising awareness about our campaigns, asking members about their individual and collective concerns, and talking to potential new members.
However, a Union is only as strong as its grassroots, its membership, its collective drive, and hunger for change, justice and improvement. This is why we need your help. Having talked to many colleagues over the past few Recruitment Weeks, we have identified several areas and demographics where we should increase our membership, but these are difficult to target centrally. We need our reps, and our members, to spread the good word, in particular, amongst:
- New members of staff: their priority when they move to a new job is rarely to join the union. If you know one in your area, department, or corridor, please ask them to join UCU, and remind them of all the benefits that union membership brings with it.
- Overseas members of staff: when I first came to Northumbria, my image of an academic union was shaped by my cultural perceptions in my own country. I was pleasantly surprised to see how relevant, and how attached to the needs of its membership, UCU was. If you know members of staff from overseas, please let them know that joining UCU is a decision that pays off.
- Postgraduate students with teaching duties: if your postgraduate students are undertaking paid teaching, they fall under UCU's remit. We are currently defending their pay conditions, and the more we have on board the stronger our ability to represent them. Our membership, in some cases, starts at £0! Please ask your PhD students to join UCU at your next supervision or training meeting. We can do many things for them, from training to representation.
- Colleagues in casual contracts: as part of conversations with potential new members, it was painful for us to see that many within the growing group of colleagues in casualised contracts are completely unaware of their working rights. We can do for them much more than many think. Chances are that you know more than one colleague on a part time Associate Lecturer contract. Please ask them to join UCU, and to write to us as soon as possible so that we can give them guidance on their rights and entitlements as employees and our campaigns to support them.
- Members of professional unions: members of professional unions who have recently joined academia from their respective industries often think that their professional union covers them. The fact is that in their new employment only UCU is recognised to represent them! Do you know any colleagues in this situation? Please encourage them, once again, to join UCU as well.
It really could not be easier. It will take them five minutes to join their union: https://join.ucu.org.uk/
If you make any new members, please write to me so that I can thank you and welcome them, and so that we can let them know how we can help from day 1