Vote for me in the UCU NEC elections!

Michael Abberton
5 min readSep 5, 2023

To restore confidence and transparency in the democratic structures of the union — and for a union that truly represents the majority of the membership.

Build the Union — a Lego model picket from a team building exercise

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 and the nationally-elected HEC NEC seat as an academic-related staff member. Below is why you should certainly vote in this and the election for the General Secretary — and I hope you will consider voting for me.

Union democracy in a changing workplace

Our workplaces and working culture have changed even in the past 5 years. I can’t walk round the offices anymore chatting with colleagues and members, as up to 70% of them are hybrid working on any given day. I also now mainly work from home. The law will change this year to make flexible working more available for all. In these situations, the branch meeting of the past, even when transferred online, cannot function as the sole vehicle for policy and debate. It’s true that hybrid working has enabled many more of our members to participate than in the old F2F meetings we used to have, but even then why should we exclude those members unable for whatever reason to join at that specific time — or those with caring or other responsibilities, differently-abled or neurodivergent members for whom such a meeting would be difficult or distressing?

There is already 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 majority and activists, that easily becomes apparent when there is a poll or national e-survey. 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 proposals 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 last year’s dispute what happens when that function fails.

Voting actions through congress or committee that do 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, their support and loyalty should not be taken for granted or abused.

My experience as a trade unionist

I have been a trade union member practically all my working life, from the Northern Carpet Trades Union in Halifax thirty-seven years ago to UCU today. I joined UCU after I returned to the UK from Japan in 2004 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 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.

Culture war

Our work places and our rights are under attack from an increasingly right-wing government, and in an an election year we can expect only that this will get worse. The culture war will intensify, with additional attacks on academic freedom. We have already seen the wholly unjustified restrictions and additional costs imposed on foreign students and staff as Westminster courts the racism and xenophobia of the far right.

I fully endorse the union’s stance on transgender and non-binary people’s rights, as unquestionably reaffirmed in last 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.

Use your vote!

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. I endorse #JoGrady4GS and would recommend that members vote for her with no second or third choice.

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Michael Abberton

Tomahawk thrower, writer, trade unionist, Japanese speaker and all around good guy.