UCU campaign poster with a badge saying 'Fair Pay Equal Pay in HE' alongside demands to: Reduce casualisation; End the gender pay gap; Restore work-life balance; and Increase salaries to catch up against inflation

in Opinion, policy, Politics

Why I chose to stand for my union branch committee

Last month, I temporarily put aside my austerity-induced feelings of workplace anxiety and put myself forward for a role on my workplace trade union, Birmingham UCU (a local branch of the University and College Union).

I’m pleased to say I’ve been accepted onto the Committee and, from September, will be serving as Communications Officer. I’d like to explain why I decided to get more active in my union in the hope of encouraging more people to join a union and to work together to make the workplace and our wider society a fairer and more pleasant place to live.

  1. To defend pensions. Earlier this year, UCU members went out on strike across the country to defend our pension scheme against drastic cuts. Were it not for the UCU, University employers, represented by Universities UK, would by now have ended guaranteed benefits in the USS pension scheme, creating serious financial uncertainty and therefore anxiety for me and my colleagues. While the dispute is by no means settled, it brought home to me how important strong unions are to defending terms and conditions, not just for me but my fellow colleagues.
  2. To improve pay. Since leaving my first career in local government in 2010, I have experienced first-hand a small taste of what austerity has meant for too many people in this country. The recent TUC March for a New Deal highlighted that on average real wages are still lower than before the crash of 2008. I can certainly vouch for this, even though changes to my career path make it hard to compare like for like with any great uncertainty. Joining and working together to build strong unions is one way we can start to change things for the better. Recent research published by the TUC in 2017 showed that unions secured a 6.5% increase in pay across similar workplaces.
  3. To promote greater fairness at work. For me, the decision to get more involved with UCU at Birmingham is as much about fairness as it is securing more generous pay and conditions. At their best, unions provide a way for ordinary people to challenge systematic injustices. I’m proud that UCU is campaigning to end the gender pay gap in higher educationchallenging executive pay, stamping out the use of casual contracts and pressuring the Home Office to ensure that migrant workers don’t lose their democratic right to strike. If you want fairness at work and in wider society, unions are key.
  4. To show practical solidarity with colleagues throughout the University. Since joining the University, I have moved from being classified as a member of Support Staff to Academic-Related. In doing so, my terms and conditions have improved. I am conscious, however, that not everyone can progress in this way and having staff on different terms and conditions creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ atmosphere. As I develop in my new role, I hope to help UCU to continue to show solidarity with lower paid colleagues at the University. I am particularly keen to support Unison’s campaign for my university to become an accredited Living Wage Employer.
  5. To achieve greater democracy at work. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the topic of workplace democracy and the role it can play in bringing about a fairer, stronger and more democratic economic system and society. The American non-profit group Democracy at Work advocates for “a future where workers at every level of their offices, stores, and factories have equal voices in the direction of their enterprise and its impact within their community and society at large.” I believe strong, member-led trade unions, are a crucial first step to bringing about greater democracy at work and, in time, could help support a movement towards a truly democratic economic system.

Join a union today

If you’re not already in a union, please visit the TUC’s Join a Union to find the union that’s right for you. Even if you’re not in work, you can always join Unite Community and help create a society that places equality, dignity and respect above all else.

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