How do we build a member-led union?

How do we build a member-led union?

I am standing for the Oxford UCU president in the first ever contested election for this position. You can read my election address here. I want to build a member-led union instead of a committee-centric pne enthralled into local rules and tradition. I have seen candidates for positions within the UCU talking about building a member-led union either through recruitment drives or involving the members more. However, I never see concrete proposals. Here you can read the local rules amendments that I prepared, together with other reps, for discussion at our annual general meeting (AGM) on the 16th of October. I invite comments, suggestions and potential amendments to these motions.

The Oxford UCU local rules have no mention of local representatives

If one reads the Oxford UCU local rules, it is as if the only people shaping the agenda of the UCU branch are the committee members. This is why I would like to see the representatives and their functions (not duties) mentioned in the local rules. Moreover, we need a person to keep an up-to-date list of reps and focus on liaising between the reps and the committee, i.e., bring topics raised by reps on behalf of the section of members they represent on the committee agenda. This amendment creates a basis for the next proposal on how representations on behalf of membership are made.

The AGM notes that:

-Staff representatives and health & safety representatives are not defined within the local rules

-The UCU has produced a reps handbook

The AGM believes that:

-Staff representatives and health & safety representatives, together with caseworkers are Oxford UCU’s main link with the membership

-The membership should define the agenda of the Committee either directly or through their local staff and/or health & safety representatives

The AGM resolves to:

-Amend the local rules – add articles 4.4, 4.5, 8.8 and 8.9 below and amend articles 8.1 and 8.7 –  to reflect the importance of representatives, and define or amend Officer positions on the Oxford UCU Committee as coordinators for representatives and caseworkers.

4.4 Representatives should be appointed locally from among that group of UCU members, e.g., in the division, department, Unit or College, and will be the first points of contact of members with Oxford UCU by 4.4.1 distributing union information to local members; 4.4.2 feeding information on local issues to branch, regional and national officers; 4.4.3 meeting members; 4.4.4 accompanying members to meetings with managers; 4.4.5 organising members’ meetings; 4.4.6 communicating with members on local issues; 4.4.7 recruiting new members; 4.4.8 liaising with the Committee on local issues including, but not limited to, multiple redundancies occurring over a period of 90 days.

4.5 Health and safety representatives should be appointed by Oxford UCU to the local Departmental Safety Advisory Committee. The functions of health and safety representatives are defined through the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and University Policy Statement S2/13. In order to best fulfill their duties, health and safety representatives should use their facility time to get appropriate training, e.g., the TUC Health & Safety Stage 1 Certificate or equivalent.

8.1 Members will be elected to the following officer roles within the LA: The President, The Vice-President, The Treasurer, The Secretary, The Membership and Recruitment Secretary; The Equality Officer; The Health and Safety Officer; The Representatives Coordinator; The Caseworker Coordinator;

8.7 Health and Safety Officer: The Health and Safety Officer will oversee and develop the departmental health and safety representatives’ network and attend the University Consultative Committee for Health and Safety. They should have or use their facility time to get appropriate training, e.g., the TUC Health & Safety Stage 1 Certificate or equivalent within three months of their appointment. In the absence of the health and safety officer, these duties will be performed by another officer or ordinary committee member with equivalent training, as the committee decides.

8.8 Representatives Coordinator: The representatives coordinator will 8.8.1 liaise between representatives and the Committee; 8.8.2 oversee and develop the representatives’ network. In the absence of the Representatives Coordinator, these duties will be performed by another officer, as the committee decides.

8.9 Caseworker Coordinator: The caseworker coordinator will oversee and develop the caseworkers’ network. In the absence of the Caseworker Coordinator, these duties will be performed by another officer, as the committee decides

The Oxford UCU rules don’t specify how representations are made on behalf of members

Once representatives are defined within the local rules, they can get a voice in shaping how the committee represents the branch. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Oxford UCU committee met every 10-14 days with representatives of the University of Oxford. Yet, members hardly ever got a report about what was discussed in these meetings nor were given the opportunity to shape the agenda for these meetings. To be fair, the University gave very little time for organising the membership. As a consequence, the committee formed a COVID-19 rapid response team from the members of the committee. However, this also reduced the committee quorum needed for decision making.

An alternative to the COVID-19 rapid response team are surveys. Surveys bring together the opinions of many. Being a firm believer in surveys, I designed, produced and I am currently finalising the analysis of the Oxford UCU return to on-site work and COVID-19 impact survey. Similarly, we organised a survey in the current section 188 collective consultation in the Department of Oncology. Interim analysis of the Oxford UCU return to on-site work and COVID-19 impact survey was already used to produce two reports. One report shaped the University’s face coverings final guidance, while the second report is aimed at influencing the University’s face-to-face teaching stance. Both reports were the work of the group of health and safety reps. This showed that reps can efficiently and successfully shape the representations made by the Oxford UCU branch to the University of Oxford. This is why I believe that we can continue empowering and activating reps through the following local rules amendment:

The AGM notes that:


-In their meetings within the University of Oxford, the Oxford UCU committee represents the membership of the LA/branch
-The committee is responsible for conducting the day-to-day business of the Branch/LA (local rule 7.1)
-During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Oxford UCU committee members met with the central University on a fortnightly basis
-In early April 2020, Oxford UCU received the following statement in writing from the University central Human Resources office:
“The safety and wellbeing of staff and students is our main priority. We are seeking to be proactive and to move at pace in order to provide answers to both staff and students at this unsettling time. To the extent that is possible, we will seek to consult the unions about changes to our policies or working practices, but you will appreciate that this will not always be feasible if we are to respond to events with the necessary speed. If the UCU committee’s approach is to respond to a consultation request from the University by consulting the membership about our intentions then in many instances the University will need to press ahead without the UCU response being taken into account.”


The AGM believes that:


-There could have been more information given to the membership and their union staff and health & safety representatives about the committee’s increased interaction with the University during this time. This could include reports of the meetings distributed in the online bulletin
-Representations to the University on the behalf of the entire membership should be circulated in advance to representatives for input in a timely manner, preferably five working days in advance
-Where possible, representations should consider input from the membership through surveys, general meetings of the Branch/LA and their representatives
-The University response to representations should be circulated, at least in summary, together with the initial representation, to the entire membership, within ten working days
-The University should be made aware of these changes to the local rules and asked to make a reasonable adjustment to prevent inadequate time being allowed for consultation with the Oxford UCU committee in the future.


The AGM resolves to:


-Amend the local rule 7 defining the committee of the branch/LA

The current rule 7:

Committee: 7.1 There will be a committee responsible for conducting the day-to-day business of the Branch/LA. The committee will meet not less than once every four months. Not less than one third of those who are at that time members of the committee must be present to form a quorum at any meeting. 7.1.1 No policy will be adopted by the committee unless ratified by at least two-thirds of the members present and voting at the quorate general meeting at which it is considered, an abstention not being regarded as a vote for this purpose; 7.1.2 All branch policies will be available to members via publication on the Branch website; 7.1.3 All branch policies will be subject to annual review and annual ratification by the general membership. 7.2 If presented with a written request signed by half of the members of the committee, the president must call a meeting of the committee to take place not later than five working days following the day on which that written request is received. 7.3 The committee will consist of:

The proposed rule 7:

7. Committee: 7.1 There will be a committee responsible for conducting the day-to-day business of the Branch/LA in accordance with input from the membership through surveys, meetings of the branch/LA and representatives. The committee will meet not less than once every four months. Not less than one third of those who are at that time members of the committee must be present to form a quorum at any meeting. 7.1.1 No policy will be adopted by the committee unless ratified by at least two-thirds of the members present and voting at the quorate general meeting at which it is considered, an abstention not being regarded as a vote for this purpose; 7.1.2 All branch policies will be available to members via publication on the Branch website; 7.1.3 All branch policies will be subject to annual review and annual ratification by the general membership. 7.1.4 Representations to the University on behalf of the membership of the Branch/LA must be prepared in writing and circulated for input from representatives, for at least 48 h, preferably five working days, if it is allowed by the short timelines imposed by the University. 7.1.5. The University response to representations should be circulated, at least in summary, together with the initial representation, to the entire membership, within ten working days after receiving that response. 7.2 If presented with a written request signed by half of the members of the committee, the president must call a meeting of the committee to take place not later than five working days following the day on which that written request is received. 7.3 The committee will consist of:

Members should be able to engage in the Oxford UCU branch through working groups around issues they find important

Some UCU members would like to get involved but they don’t find their issues promoted through the agenda set by the committee. It is almost impossible to bring new topics on the agenda of general meetings, when (1) there is hardly any invitation for motions or an explanation for how to make motions to general meetings (2) the motions proposed at general meetings come mostly from committee members (3) AOBs (any other businesses) are given very little time. This is why I would encourage grassroot working groups to be formed to address rapid-responses needed for representations to the University (committee called working groups) or around issues of interest for members (working groups formed at a general meeting).

The AGM notes that:

-The Oxford UCU committee members and representatives do not have facility time and their UCU commitments are done within their spare time

-Increased activity within the Oxford UCU branch/LA (Local Association) led to more common issues surfacing and needing being addressed

-The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic led to an overload of work for the Oxford UCU committee members

-Special Interest Groups are defined within the local rules

The AGM believes that:

-The workload of the day-to-day committee business can be shared with the active members of the branch/LA through working groups

-Working groups need the flexibility to be formed ad hoc, through a committee call to action or a resolution at a general meeting

Ad hoc working groups can efficiently share the load of writing representations to the University and coordinating input from representatives in a timely manner (see “Representations made by the Committee to the University on behalf of the Oxford UCU membership” local rules amendment)

-Special Interest Groups, as defined in the current local rules, do not have the flexibility needed for these trying times

-Nevertheless, working groups representing the interest of sections of the membership, e.g., collective consultation through a TULCRA ‘92 Section 188 notice, may be established within the LA only through a general meeting.

The AGM resolves to:

-Change local rule 18 to define working groups as a modernisation of the special interest groups, and achieve a more dynamic process for making representations, particularly in difficult circumstances 

The current rule 18:

18. Special Interest Groups: 18.1 With the agreement of a general meeting groups representing the interest of sections of the membership may be established within the LA.  An officer of the committee shall be ex-officio a member of any such group. 18.2 Each special interest group shall meet at least twice in every academic year and shall keep minutes of such meetings which shall be transmitted to the Committee of the Local Association.

The proposed rule 18:

Working groups: 18.1 Working groups can form ad hoc, through a committee call or a general meeting. 18.2 Working groups representing a section of the membership in a collective consultation through TULCRA 1992 Section 188 can be formed only by the committee and need a general meeting formal approval. 18.3 Each working group shall keep minutes of their meetings which shall be transmitted to the Committee of the Local Association. 18.4 A working group can be dissolved by itself when its goal is reached or when it becomes irrelevant, or through a general meeting resolution. The formation or dissolution of a working group should be reported at the first appropriate general meeting by the committee of the branch/LA.

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