International Solidarity at UCU Congress 2024

The University and College Union (UCU) 2024 congress is taking place at the end of May in Bournemouth, write Liz Lawrence and Philip Inglesant. Several important issues are tabled for debate, which have a bearing on how the union is organised and its priorities.

 

There are 67 motions on the order paper, plus amendments. In addition, the Further and Higher Education sections hold separate conferences in the middle of the event . Unite members of UCU staff who are in dispute with UCU may strike that day and stop those conferences. We support these staff members in their struggles.

This is the first of a series of articles addressing the debates before UCU Congress 2024 looking at international solidarity, a vital issue for any trade union.  Revolutionary socialists actively support the international solidarity work of trade unions, both because we view it as an elementary duty and because we learn so much from listening to the experiences of workers in other countries.

Subsequent articles will look at the equality work of UCU, academic freedom and education, union democracy and organisation, and employment issues in Further and Higher Education.

There are 11 international motions on the UCU Congress agenda.  All should be supported and acted upon post Congress by the NEC and by UCU branches and regions.  Since they come at the end of the business timetabled in the session tabled for the afternoon of Wednesday 29 May, it is important they are reached and don’t end up being remitted to the NEC.

The first motion (motion 27), in the name of the National Executive Committee, addresses the growth of right-wing populism and attacks on trade unions in many countries, including Ukraine and Palestine.  It recognizes the value of learning from international solidarity and calls on the NEC to engage branches and regions of UCU in practical international solidarity work.  While the motion is couched in fairly general terms, it should be supported because it is enabling in terms of international solidarity work.

The second motion (motion 28) is from UCU’s Migrant members standing committee.  UCU recognises migrant worker members as a distinct equality strand in its equality structures.  This perspective has been a valuable addition to UCU debates.

Motion 28 addresses the particular difficulties that marginalised workers and workers from the Global South may face in engaging in international solidarity issues.  It instructs UCU to fund costs of a guest speaker from the Global South or a historically marginalised group to attend a major UCU event or conference.  It also calls on UCU to lobby the UK Government for mobility visa schemes and financial support for people from conflict zones and marginalised group to access post 16 education in the UK.

This is an excellent motion clearly linking international solidarity and equality issues. The amendment from University of Oxford opposing further restrictions on migrations must also be supported.

Ukraine

Motion 29 is a Ukraine Solidarity motion, proposed by Oxford Brookes University and Bristol University UCU branches. This motion outlines practical solidarity work which UCU should undertake and endorses the appeal issued by the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine on the second anniversary of the all-out invasion. If UCU Congress carries this motion, it will be a positive step forward in UCU’s position.

While the situation in Gaza and the occupied West Bank has rightly attracted world attention and solidarity, there is also a need for ongoing solidarity with other struggles, including that of Ukrainian workers against Russian invasion.

In 2014 the Russian Federation invaded and annexed Crimea.  In 2022 they launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine, intending to overthrow the elected government and install a puppet regime.  The Ukrainian people’s resistance prevented this, but many Ukrainians have died or been injured, and parts of the country are under brutal occupation. Ukrainians have paid a heavy price for resisting Russian occupation.  Ongoing solidarity is needed.

UCU Congress 2023 voted for two contradictory motions on Ukraine.  One was a solidarity motion from the NEC referring to humanitarian assistance and the organisation of webinars to educate UCU members on the topic.  This motion has to some degree been implemented from the grassroots of the union by UCU Members for Ukraine.

UCU Members for Ukraine has organised support for financial appeals for humanitarian assistance. It has put on webinars addressing themes such as how education in schools and universities is continuing in wartime conditions, sex and gender equality in Ukraine, history of Ukraine, including its socialist history, and the economy of Ukraine and prospects for post-war reconstruction.

UCU Congress 2023 also, by a margin of 9 votes, carried a motion from a Stop the War perspective on Ukraine. The motion was based on the proxy war narrative, which denies Ukrainians any agency, and called on the UK government to stop sending weapons to Ukraine.

From the perspective of the 2023 motion, all wars end in negotiation and there should be a demand for an immediate ceasefire, even if this allows the Russian Federation to stay in occupation of Ukrainian territory.  Pacifist and semi-pacifist illusions led to support for this motion; if Ukraine were forced to stop fighting, through lack of arms, there would not be peace and an end to war crimes.  In the last six months Ukraine has struggled with lack of weapons, but the resistance to occupation has continued.

The passing of the Stop the War motion at UCU Congress 2023 was met with shock, anger and horror among Ukrainians, their supporters and Eastern European scholars generally.  They considered that delegates who had voted for this position really did not understand the situation in Ukraine.

UCU Congress 2024 should support the Ukraine solidarity motion and the motions in solidarity with Palestine.  It should reject any double standards when it comes to international solidarity.  Both the Palestinian and the Ukrainian people have experienced denial of their national identity and war crimes.  Both groups have the right to national self-determination and to resist occupation.

Argentina

Motion 30 from City and Islington College UCU branch condemns the Milei regime in Argentina and calls for solidarity with Argentinian workers.  Workers, socialists, environmental, social movement and equality activists in Argentina are facing a vicious right-wing government.  Right-wing politicians around the world will be looking to see what reactionary policies the Milei government can implement and how much resistance there is.  It is in the interests of workers everywhere to support the struggles against the policies of the Milei government.

Motion 30 is an important motion in defence of workers’ rights against neo-liberal economic policies and state repression.  It should be supported and should become the basis for meaningful solidarity work by UCU.

Uyghur Muslims

Motion 31 from the University of Leicester UCU branch calls for solidarity with Uyghur Muslims and for UK Higher Education institutions to speak out against the oppression and genocide the Uyghurs are facing.  This is an area where UCU and many other unions need to develop solidarity work.  In doing this it is important to reject any campist positions which see Chinese or Russian imperialism as lesser evils or countries which should be supported in a world polarized among imperialist powers, where these countries are given some support because they are seen as opposed to American imperialism.  The left should oppose all imperialisms and all forms of genocide.

Palestine

There are six Congress motions (motions 32-37) specifically in solidarity with Palestine. These motions support a ceasefire, defend free speech on the question of Palestine, and highlight how the conflict has impacted on disabled people and women.  One motion warns of the dangers of a wider escalation of the conflict and calls for an immediate arms embargo on Israel. Motion 34 calls for a single democratic secular state.  A motion from the University of Brighton UCU calls for solidarity with Palestine protests on US campuses.

A composite motion (motion 37) from University of Oxford UCU and London Regional Committee calls for a Gaza Family Scheme to enable Palestinians to relocate to the UK, with a right to return protected in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This would be on a similar basis to pathways to safety for people fleeing from Ukraine and Hong Kong.  This is a proposal which should be supported so long as the principle of the right of return is maintained.

Some universities have attacked the freedom of UCU branches to debate and take positions on Israel and Palestine. At Queen Mary University of London, UCU’s offices on campus were physically violated with university security breaking in to remove posters. There is one composite motion to Congress and one to HE Sector Conference deploring these attacks and defending free speech and academic freedom.

Any motion or clause which calls, or could be seen to support, a boycott of academic institutions has not been allowed onto the agenda – this follows UCU’s practice and legal advice over many years. These restrictions include calls to support BRICUP – the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (although composite motion 33 does note the BRICUP-organised tour of campuses) – and any call for signatures to the Commitment by UK Scholars to Palestinian Human Rights (again, this statement and call for signatures can merely be noted in the motion). However, since a Congress motion in 2010, UCU supports in principle boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions within the constraints of the existing law. Unfortunately, “existing law” would be further severely constrained by the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, currently in the House of Lords, should this Bill make it through Parliament before the next election; only one motion – motion 34 – mentions this threat, and only in one point under “Congress resolves”.

It is possible there will be some challenges to the report of Congress Business Committee so that some motions are put back on the order paper for debate.  If so, these challenges will be debated on the first day of Congress.  The right to debate motions on Palestine should be defended.


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Liz Lawrence is a past President of UCU and active in UCU Left.

Philip Inglesant is a member of London Retired Members' UCU branch and formerly of Oxford University UCU

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