Striking lecturers are up in arms at the deal provisionally struck between UCU negotiators and university bosses. If accepted, this ‘compromise’ will force members to swallow a pension cut, and kick further negotiations into the long grass.
The union plans to send us back to work on Wednesday. Adding insult to injury, all classes lost to the UCU strike would be rescheduled without pay! Given our current position of strength, this betrayal has left members rightly enraged.
No need to surrender
The UCU strike has been going from strength-to-strength. Called over an attempted counter-reform to the USS pension scheme (that could leave lecturers £10,000-a-year worse off in retirement), members entered their fourth week of action with great confidence. Not only have picket lines held firm in the face of blizzards and bullying tactics by management, but student solidarity has been overwhelming.
Britain Elects found that only two percent of students blame lecturers for the disruption, while over 60 percent support the strike. All over Britain, students have been turning up to pickets in droves to show their support. The NUS has passed a statement of solidarity. Many local unions have done the same. And occupations have broken out at universities up and down the country, with students seizing their vice-chancellors’ offices in protest at attacks on their teachers.
Some vice-chancellors (including Oxford University’s Louise Richardson) have even flipped under such pressure from below, calling on the managers’ organisation (Universities UK) to halt on their planned cuts to pensions.
In short, the UCU had the bosses on the run. Conditions were perfect to press the offensive. Instead, the union tops plan to sell us out.
On the strikes organised by the university staff:— Britain Elects (@britainelects) February 22, 2018
On who is most to blame:
University employers: 50%
University staff: 2%
Equally so: 20%
via @YouGov, 13 - 20 Feb
Sample: UK adults studying at university.
Just how bad is the deal?
The whole dispute began over a proposed shift from ‘defined benefit’ to ‘defined contribution’. This is the difference between knowing what your pension will pay out on the basis of your contributions, versus gambling the value of your pension on the performance of the stock market.
The deal on the table makes a vague promise of “a meaningful level of defined benefits”, with no indication of what level of risk scheme members must shoulder. This is the closest thing in the offer to an actual victory.
For a three-year, transitional period (starting April 2019), member contributions will increase to 8.7 percent (up from 8), while employers’ contributions will go up by only 1.3 percent. The bosses are accepting the minimal possible increase in risk, and will presumably continue to reward themselves six-figure salaries.
After the three-years elapses, our strongest-ever action will be a distant memory, we will have completely demobilised, and...we will still have to come up with a “sustainable defined contributions scheme”!
Over the past few weeks, the union was being strengthened through struggle. Colleagues in other university unions were considering taking action. Participation rates in the strike were on the up, as more and more lecturers were won over to the cause. And UCU membership has increased by 30 percent as new (and particularly casualised) academics flooded into the breach.
We are therefore squandering all of the radical energy, momentum, and goodwill we have built up over the past few weeks for the sake of a pension cut in the short term - and complete capitulation in the long term.
On top of that, the UCU statement both “recognise[s] that strike action will lead to the loss of pay” and “ encourage[s] its members to prioritise the rescheduling of teaching in order to minimise the disruption to students.” This is teaching we will never be paid for. Our own union is asking us to work for free.
Rebellion in the ranks
The UCU’s proposal has provoked the wrath of its members. Already, the UoL, Liverpool, Cambridge and other UCU branches have released statements rejecting the deal. An open letter to the same effect is being widely circulated and has been signed by over 5000 members already. There will be a protest tomorrow at 10am at UCU headquarters in London to coincide with a consultation between the Higher Education Committee and UCU branch delegates.
One committee member from King’s College London commented: “What did we strike for? How will we look our students in the face?” Or as another commented, more bluntly: “Sally Hunt (UCU General Secretary) needs to be sacked!”
With students out in force, colleagues in FE already striking over pay, and anger mounting from public sector workers facing betrayal from their own union tops, the potential exists for a public sector-wide strike. This could easily bring down the zombified Tory government. The UCU leadership risks squandering this potential for the sake of a three-year reprieve.
Reject the deal! Continue the struggle!
Our struggle should be connected to the broader question of marketisation of education. The students who have offered their solidarity are the same layers energised by Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing programme and promise of free education.
We should appeal to students to join us in a wider struggle against capitalist exploitation, and for a democratically-managed education system under the control of workers - funded through the expropriated wealth of the bosses, bankers and fat-cat vice-chancellors.
This deal is toxic. Lecturers should not touch it. At tomorrow’s protest, UCU members will send a strong message to their union leaders:
- No capitulation!
- No pension cuts!
- Fight to the end!