Jo Grady, Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations at the University of Sheffield and Pensions Officer of Sheffield UCU, has been elected General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU). Grady won on a landslide, picking up 48.7% of the vote in the first round and then 64% in the second round.
Electoral turnout was 20.5%, a marked improvement over the 13.7% turnout of the 2017 election. Grady came far ahead of her two electoral opponents, each of whom represented an established faction in UCU. Jo McNeill, the candidate for UCU Left (the bureaucratic left faction in which the Socialist Workers Party plays a prominent role) was eliminated in the first round after received 25.5% of the vote. Matt Waddup, the candidate for Independent Broad Left (the right-wing faction to which the incumbent General Secretary Sally Hunt belongs) received 25.8% of the vote in the first round and 33% in the second.
Sally Hunt triggered the election by resigning as General Secretary this year for health reasons. Looming over the election was Hunt’s handling of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions strike last year and her shutting down of UCU Congress 2018 three times in response to motions critical of her leadership, including a motion of no confidence.
The USS Strike and UCU Congress 2018 fermented a grassroots upsurge. Initiatives like Branch Solidarity Network, USS Briefs, UCU Rank and File, and Our UCU were launched with the aim of making UCU more democratic and combative. As a co-founder of USS Briefs, Grady was a prominent figure within that upsurge. She successfully positioned herself as a left-wing, rank and file candidate to whom UCU members could turn for genuine change. In this respect, there is a parallel with John Moloney’s recent election as PCS Assistant General Secretary: a rank-and-file socialist ran independently from the established left and came first out of three candidates.
Grady’s victory marks a positive change within UCU. Nevertheless, for all her strengths, one should not forget that transforming a union requires much more than placing capable left-wingers in positions of authority. There is always a risk of Grady becoming isolated at the top of the union from the very base that brought her into power. This is why we urgently need to revive efforts to build a rank-and-file strategy in UCU that can reshape the union from within.
• Jo Grady’s campaign website