To restore confidence and transparency in the democratic structures of the union — and for a union that truly represents the majority of the membership.
I’m Michael Abberton, current University of Cambridge UCU Branch President, and I’m running for the position of geographically-elected NEC member for HE London and the East. This is why you should consider voting for me in this by-election.
There is a democratic deficit in our union that threatens its legitimacy in claiming to be truly representative of the majority of members. A gap is widening between the ‘silent’ majority and activists. Too often a vociferous minority is dominating every forum we have, from constitutional national and committee meetings to local branches, with ordinary members feeling increasingly alienated. We have even seen propositions for disenfranchising or categorising members based on arbitrary levels of activism or meeting attendance. I am firmly opposed to all such ideas, and believe that we have a fundamental duty to enable as many members as possible to have their say in how the union is governed.
In this situation, confidence in leadership and the direction of the union as a whole comes into question. One such example was the congress motion on the war in the Ukraine. During my term as Branch President I have never seen as many members resign as a result of any action or policy. My branch was one of the many which subsequently passed a motion which condemned the motion unequivocally. The practice of using block votes under a factional ‘whip’ surely works against the ideal of true democracy — a safe space where open and respectful discussion can take place, where opinions can be explored and changed.
Our union is based on a model of representative democracy for good reasons, as it would simply be unable to function at branch or national level if we depended on continual plebiscites. But we must first restore trust in those processes, not seek to further confuse and undermine them in increasing the number of unconstitutional Branch Delegate Meetings and additional national committees. The executive is there to enable the union to act and react in a timely manner. We have witnessed in the current dispute what happens when that function fails.
Voting action through congress or committee that does not have majority support fails the membership twice over. The action will not have the numbers or density to be effective and when it inevitably fails, members feel justifiably aggrieved, having sacrificed their pay and potentially damaged their careers with nothing to show for the hardship they suffered. Our members and comrades should not be considered pawns in a game and their support should not be taken for granted.
I strongly believe that a union should function as a community, offering mutual support locally, regionally and nationally. I have been a trade union member practically all my working life, from the Northern Carpet Trades Union in Halifax 35 years ago to UCU today, and joined UCU after I returned to the UK from Japan to take up a post at Teikyo University in Durham. For the past twelve years, I have been employed by the University of Cambridge, specifically at Cambridge University Press and Assessment, as a Senior Assessment Manager.
I have held various roles in the local branch over the past ten years, such as Department Rep, Caseworker, Casework Coordinator, Health and Safety rep and since 2020, Branch President. I have undergone formal UCU and TUC training in areas ranging from Employment Law to Negotiation and Bargaining, and have had plenty of opportunity to put this training into practice as a senior caseworker and as a member of our negotiation committee. I am also a certified Mental Health First-Aider.
As Branch President, I was part of the negotiating team that achieved a historic milestone for our branch: a voluntary recognition agreement with the University of Cambridge, the last public university in England to recognize UCU. I am a strong believer in the idea that we can only move forward by having a good working relationship with management, that any dispute, though it may necessitate confrontation and direct action, can only be settled through negotiation. At Cambridge we have continued to have constructive talks with university management throughout the pay dispute, an approach which helped us secure the first joint union/management statement urging UCEA to engage in meaningful talks. We also worked very closely with the university throughout the USS dispute and secured a joint statement with management, in conjunction with Oxford University management and UCU branch.
In the face of an increasingly dangerous culture war, our workplaces are under attack. I fully endorse the union’s stance on transgender and non-binary people’s rights, as unquestionably reaffirmed in this year’s Congress. However, I believe that we need to go further and actively push back against the normalization of harmful anti-LGBTQ+ opinions and stereotypes. The media’s daily abuse aimed at the LGBTQ+ community is deeply concerning, and I am determined to stand against it.
I am proud to be one of the original members of the Campaign for UCU Democracy. If elected I will continue to champion the rights and interests of all our members and work tirelessly to ensure that our union remains inclusive, democratic, strategic, and effective in addressing the challenges we face.