It is with the greatest sadness that we have to announce the death of Jenny Marchant, Cambridge UCU’s branch president. Jenny passed away last Sunday surrounded by members of her family after being diagnosed last year with ovarian cancer.
Jenny’s contribution to our branch over the last several years has been enormous. Never one to seek out the limelight, she became the quiet backbone of almost everything our branch has achieved in recent years.
Like so many of us, Jenny first became active in UCU during the 2018 USS pensions strikes. Her time on the picket lines sparked a keen desire to get more involved in local organising. At the same time, her interest in trade unionism was driven by a sense of deep injustice and inequality within her field of archeology as well as at Cambridge University, borne out of her experiences as a precarious field archeologist, and then as a Temporary Employment Service worker. Before she secured her permanent position as a conservator at the Fitzwilliam Museum, she had first-hand experience of the crippling impacts of long-term job insecurity that so many casualised staff face, working for several years in contract archaeology. She approached unionism with a relentless passion and empathy for those most impacted by the insecurity, low pay, and undervaluing endemic in our sector.
Jenny joined the branch executive in June 2018, serving first as reps coordinator before taking on the role of vice-president, and then finally branch president. She dedicated everything she had to all of these roles. She was instrumental in building up our reps network, working with many others who were similarly inspired by their experiences on picket lines in 2018. She served as a rep in her own department, becoming a focal point for unionism at the Fitzwilliam Museum. She recruited to and developed our casework team and served as a caseworker herself. In collaboration with Sandra Cortijo, she helped to develop the branch’s first anti-casualisation claim, establishing a working group that has driven real progress on casualisation at the university. She joined forces with other women unionists to highlight the appalling gender pay gap at Cambridge and supported organising drives led by BME and migrant workers. She dedicated all her time to help build our branch, while calmly but persistently challenging University management and pushing them to do better by their staff. Behind the scenes, she helped to overhaul internal processes and set up systems of organising, tracking, and mobilising. A great many of our branch’s achievements, such as last year’s successful strike ballot campaign, bear her imprint.
For many of us, Jenny was our rock. Jenny’s leadership was marked by warmth, self-deprecation and a distinctive, infectious sense of humour. She was quick to see the potential in others, and to draw out their different strengths to achieve collective change. She was always there to listen, and thought long and carefully about everything that she did. Her passion and dedication to unionism meant that she touched the lives of many within our community, both directly and indirectly. She will be greatly missed – as a colleague, a comrade, and a friend.
Our thoughts are with Jenny’s family, and Justin, her longstanding partner, whom she married on Saturday. We send our support to them, and to all those who knew and loved Jenny. We mourn her loss and honour her legacy, and commit to keep fighting as she showed us how.