Here we go again: Years after the Max Planck PhDnet journey, I downsized to local activism and representation. But now, I am running again to represent a large group of people: I stand for president of the Oxford UCU branch to represent more than 1900 trade union members. This is the first contested presidential election in the history of the branch. I want a more democratic way of representation which is based on input from membership and representatives. Below you can find my election address.
I have two decades of experience in workplace representation and activism. This experience includes involvement in EURODOC structures that represent Europe-wide Early Career Researchers, and specifically as spokesperson for ~6000 Max Planck PhD candidates. A significant achievement was bringing about improvements to doctoral contracts for the Max Planck PhD candidates and postdocs requiring an annual 50 million EUR investment in the payment of research staff. Another success was to put the issues of abuse of power, bullying and harassment in academia front and centre stage in the German media. This lead to Nature declaring that there is “No Place for Bullies in Science”. My experience has taught me to organise the input of large groups. It has also enhanced my ability to represent people’s views confidently to management, politicians, media and other stakeholders.
I have used my past experience in my work in the Oxford UCU branch. I started as a caseworker and health and safety (H&S) representative. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I recognised that we needed more coordinated action to mitigate its impact on staff. I think our local branch needs to work towards organising and empowering a network of H&S representatives. To work towards this aim, I organised weekly meetings on H&S topics. In parallel, I designed the UCU survey on return to on-site work and COVID-19 impact to find out the views of our membership and the wider community. The survey results are informing the position papers we, the H&S representatives, are writing as representations to the University. The survey has also provided valuable information on working and payment conditions at the University of Oxford during the pandemic. I am also involved in the local Fund the Future Campaign and a group evaluating the impact of the pandemic on visa-dependent contracts. Since March, I have also been involved in supporting staff during the largest restructuring in the history of the University of Oxford both individually and through collective consultation with the management. I have found my work with the Oxford UCU branch challenging but extremely rewarding. I have, however, struggled with the lack of a clear framework to involve local representatives and the wider membership. This is why I am standing for president. I will propose amendments to the local rules to ensure that the next Oxford UCU branch committee changes its committee-centric modus operandi to motivate and enable the union members to make representations and shape our work. The members should inform the agenda of the committee through survey responses, general meetings and their representatives. Any representation the branch makes to the University should be prepared in writing and circulated for input among representatives – who should also consult the members in their departments – before being submitted to the University. Any response from the University should also be circulated to the entire membership. These local rule amendments will be proposed during the next annual general meeting and posted for feedback on my blog.