The Postgraduate Workers Association (PGWA) was given a enthusiastic welcome at the Universities and College Union (UCU) conference 2012. The network received wide support from the established academics that spoke to us, and the attending post-grads expressed genuine interest at the work we were trying to do.
The PGWA also heard about many organising and campaigning initiatives on campuses from across the country, including the north of England (Teeside, Durham, Leeds) and Scotland (Edinburgh, Aberdeen). We invited the post-grad activists to create reports for our blog, so that the network can share in our successes and learn useful organising methods.
The PGWA was also specifically mentioned as an exciting and important initiative in the Anti-Casualisation Committee (ACC) fringe meeting on the Saturday, at which over 50 UCU activists attended.
There were also a number of motions passed calling on the UCU to initiate or strengthen the union’s activity against casualised working conditions, for fair pay for hourly paid lecturers, and in defence on academic freedom in the face of the introduction of privatisation in Higher Education – these issues being ones that postgrads have to negotiate in their daily lives.
Motions from many branches included anti-casualisation elements and considerations, which indicate a rapidly growing unease about the marketisation of education and the casualisation of the workforce in general.
The UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee is an important initiative within the union that works to highlight the trend towards temporary and hourly paid work in both Further and Higher education, and the growing support for the issues it raises opens up the opportunities for postgraduates experiencing these conditions to have their concerns heard and addressed at their local branches.
A key motion for us was HE17, which established a national precedent for local UCU branches to develop postgrad recruitment drives, whilst linking this to the promotion of the NUS/UCU Postgraduate Charter.
The PGWA has also been invited to organise our own workshop at the upcoming UCU Left national conference in September.
So, the outcomes of conference are that we have developed an awareness of the PGWA within UCU on a national level, have made contacts with activists from numerous institutions across the country (many of whom are already engaged in very similar work to our own and can bring practical ideas and experience to the network), and that we have been invited to curate a workshop at a national conference in Sept.
A successful conference for us all round!