Feedback on USS Dispute from Bristol UCU

Dear Harriet (National Executive Committee and Higher Education Committee member) and Catriona (UCU South West Regional Support Official),

We have been asked to supply feedback in relation to the pensions dispute in advance of the HEC meeting on Wednesday. The view of Bristol UCU’s Pensions Working Group is that the majority of members in our branch would support a suspension of the industrial action – particularly if national can also use the opportunity to re-think the strategy for action if it needs to be re-launched in Spring.

In order to gauge opinion we have asked reps to provide feedback from their members.  This feedback is attached and is a mixed bag but the majority of responses are in favour of suspension.  Note that some feedback turned into a debate so I have chosen not to include the whole discourse.

We are a moderate branch but our membership was extremely angry at our first pensions meeting in September. The dispute has generated a lot of interest and anger across the membership (including younger staff and members we don’t often see at meetings). However, Bristol’s willingness on the ground to take industrial action has been hesitant, though pockets of confidence have been building following several well-attended branch meetings in addition to the hard work of reps and Exec members at sectional meetings.

Members have expressed a worry about exposure and financial loss for the first wave, and concerns have been expressed that a marking boycott alone is the wrong action to take; not just by academics who feel exposed by it, but by non-marking staff who would like more opportunity to express their anger by taking action themselves. Even in schools where willingness to take action has been strong, a great deal of thought and energy has gone into ways to collectivise/anonymise the action and/or ‘hunt the loophole’ – both of which are indicative of deep individual unease. Worry has also been expressed about the financial hit on individuals, not helped by lack of clarity about national’s escalation strategy and the availability of strike pay despite reassurances at local level.

We held two events in the branch last week: An Extraordinary Branch Meeting on Thursday and a Lobby of University Council on Friday.


The EGM was called following a briefing the previous week attended by over 100 members.  The briefing discussed many aspects of the dispute and discussed how we could collectivise action.  We agreed to call an EGM to enable motions to be heard.  The EGM last week was again well attended (over 80 members) and we listened to feedback from Schools where the boycott was becoming strong but also from others where it was less strong.  The meeting took three motions but the key motion which is relevant to Wednesday’s meeting is motion 3 which calls for the requisition of a Special Higher Education Conference.  The motion is linked to below.  This motion received 4 votes in favour.

3…Celia Hollingworth, IT Services – this motion called for the requisition of a Special Higher Education Sector conference. MOTION Lost

Lobby of Council

The Lobby was well attended (given the 8.30 start on a Friday).  Sally Hunt’s message had gone out the previous night and there was a feeling from members at the Lobby that this was a definite move in the right direction and that our early action had been vindicated. Members were upbeat and positive.

So in summary, we believe that the majority of members at Bristol would welcome a suspension of action.  It is our view that the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting is absolutely vital – if it appears too close to call we would propose that a delay of one week is called for to allow an e-ballot of members to take place.

With best wishes



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