Victorious Hunt sets out to curtail the Left's power

9th March 2012 at 00:00
Re-elected UCU general secretary wants smaller national executive

The University and College Union (UCU) elections were pitched as a war of legitimacy between the general secretary and the national executive committee, who had clashed over the growing influence of UCU Left, dominated by the Socialist Workers Party. In the end, it was a decisive victory in favour of general secretary Sally Hunt.

The lack of a mainstream opponent gifted her a greatly increased majority. Her only opponent was the UCU Left candidate, Mark Campbell, but, given a clear run, he was only able to take just over a quarter of the vote. Ms Hunt took 73 per cent.

Now Ms Hunt aims to implement a plan to reduce the size of the national executive committee, arguing that its large numbers and often uncontested elections make it vulnerable to a takeover by a faction such as UCU Left without majority support. "This organisation has developed within UCU, with its own constitution, its own affiliation fees, and it has gone beyond what I would consider acceptable or what our members would expect," she said.

UCU Left had taken extreme positions such as opposing a ballot of members over whether to end the pensions strike, Ms Hunt said - although UCU Left said it proposed other ways of canvassing members' views, fearing that a ballot would indicate that the union was ready to end its fight.

But Ms Hunt stressed that she would oppose any outside political group trying to direct the union's policy. "I don't care whether it's UCU Left, UCU Right or UCU Centre," she said in the speech that launched her campaign last year. "Any group that seeks to assert its own political agenda within the union in place of that of our members should think again."

UCU's national executive is the same size as Unison's, but with less than a tenth of the membership. It is inherited from its pre-merger days, when the two unions added their committees together. "Simply having a large number of people in the room doesn't make an effective executive," Ms Hunt said.

UCU Left, on the other hand, contends that cutting the number of representatives is an odd way to increase representation for the ordinary member. The national executive is also carefully balanced to represent FE and HE in proportion to the size of the sectors. It reflects a regional balance, as well as the diversity of institutions within each sector.

Candidates from outside UCU Left, who were endorsed by Ms Hunt, won 26 of the 37 national executive seats contested this year and now have an overall majority. This should pave the way for Ms Hunt's proposal that the committee be reduced from 70 members to no more than 40. The proposal will need to win a ballot of members before being put to Congress in the spring.

Mr Campbell blamed the size of his defeat on the difficulties of running against an incumbent and an absence of hustings. "Would I have won otherwise? Probably not," he said. "But it's not about UCU Left. It's about what is the structure of the union and how are people represented?"

He criticised claims that reducing the size of the national executive would save money, calculating that it would only cut bills by #163;85,000. Mr Campbell said he could have saved the union a similar sum simply by declining to take the full salary of the general secretary and taking the pay only of a senior lecturer.

Last year, Ms Hunt called on the union to "demilitarise decision-making" at UCU. She acknowledged that the campaign had been a bruising one, in which she had received abuse for her stand. It remains to be seen whether a truce will follow the victory.

UCU election results

117,918 Ballot papers distributed

14,717 Valid ballot papers returned

10,776 Votes for Sally Hunt

3,941 Votes for Mark Campbell.

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