In light of the ongoing UCU strike action taking place at universities around the country, on Friday we published an open letter to UCU members arguing that the UCU should not settle for the deal on the table for the negotiations with UUK that are due to start today.
The deal constitutes a pension cut, that will hurt starting academics the most, and one that takes the wind out of the sails of what has the potential to be an HE-sector (and perhaps even public-sector) wide strike. It is not an exaggeration that this would have the potential to bring down the government in its weakened state.
Below is a motion that is being presented to an Emergency General Meeting of the KCL UCU branch. All UCU comrades should attempt to do the same, and student should pass similar solidarity resolutions in student unions and student societies.
UCU: No pension cuts! Fight marketisation! Bring down the Tories!
This branch notes that:
- Over the past weeks, university staff all over the country have braved freezing weather and bullying tactics from management to strike in defence of their pensions.
- In the space of five days of action, we’ve affected a complete transformation of the situation: the UUK has done a 180-degree inversion on its hard-line position and has committed to meaningful negotiations without preconditions, and to arbitration.
- Unison members have also passed motions of solidarity with the UCU and has participated in joint demonstrations.
- Further Education college staff have overwhelmingly balloted for strike action over pay reductions.
- Over 60% of students support our action, and only 2% blame us for the disruption.
- Ahead of negotiations on Monday, the UCU has contacted members with a proposal that we retain defined benefit at the cost of a “modest” increase in contributions. The new proposal would mean contributions would increase by just 4.1% (split 65/35 between employers and employees) rather than the 8.3% estimated cost of UCU’s previous proposal – an increase in contributions of 2.7% for employers and 1.4% for USS members.
This branch believes that:
- Retaining defined benefit will undoubtedly be a victory for workers, and a defeat for the exploiters. We will have succeeded where other public-sector workers (including nurses and doctors) were sadly defeated in beating back an unconscionable attack on our profession.
- If the UUK accepts the suggested compromise, which demands higher contributions and more risk for employees, then we are still swallowing a pension cut, and vice-chancellors will continue to reward themselves with six-figure salaries, courtesy of extortionate student fees.
- This cut would disproportionately affect starting lecturers who have only just begun paying into the pension scheme.
- Retreating from the picket lines will take the momentum out of our FE colleagues’ action, and undercut attempts by Unison members to stand up for their interests.
- Thanks to this cross-union solidarity and student support, UCU members have developed a level of confidence never seen during any action in the past.
- Given the strength of the strike thus far, we have no reason to settle for anything less than total victory and no change whatsoever to our pensions.
This branch further believes:
- We all know the attack on the USS is not an isolated issue: it is just one more step along the road to total marketisation of education. This can be felt acutely in the form of extortionate student fees (especially for international students), endless and enormously expensive development projects, an unbearable pressure to meet research targets, a 15 percent pay cut for staff over the past decade and the widespread adoption of precarious teaching contracts.
- We have successfully reached out to students with a big picture, political message, presenting the counter-reform to USS as part of a wider fightback against marketisation. Between the burden of debt, uncertainty over future employment prospects, racist surveillance laws and abysmally expensive (and often simply abysmal) accommodation, it is little wonder that our student body is wracked by a mental health crisis. Every lecturer could cite examples of students who have crashed out of academia altogether under the pressure of stress and anxiety. These are the same students who have joined us in solidarity – with nothing whatsoever to gain from our dispute – and occupied their universities in protest at attacks on their teachers.
- We have a golden opportunity to link with other education workers and fight for a much more fundamental change in society. What we have seen developing on campuses is the germ of a public sector-wide strike: one with the potential to bring the Conservatives to their knees. The weakness of May’s administration is evidenced by its tepid stance on this strike. Universities minister Sam Gyimah called on the UUK to acquiesce to talks after a handful of strike days: contrast this with the bullishness with which Jeremy Hunt battled the junior doctors in 2016.
- Rest assured, the Tories have not been moved to declare sympathy with striking staff out of the goodness of their hearts. The government is in a desperately weakened position following the Tories’ disastrous performance at the last general election. The Tories lack the confidence to back their Vice-Chancellor cronies over this issue, given the firm pushback from workers and students.
This branch resolves to:
- Appeal to UCU negotiators not to accept a single pension cut. The USS pension scheme should remain as it is, or the strikes should continue.
- If the UUK refuses in, UCU should re-ballot members to extend the remit of the strike. We should mobilise for a general opposition to privatisation and marketisation of public services.
- To join with other public-sector workers currently in dispute and preparing for action: including colleagues at FE colleges and in Unison.
- To reach out to students by framing our struggle as part of a wider fightback against the commodification of education, and a struggle for free education.
- Build collectively for a public-sector wide strike, one with the potential to bring this weakened Tory government to an end.