Photo credits: Neil Terry
On Thursday February 22nd, staff at UK universities started a wave of strike action in defence of their pensions. This is the biggest industrial action ever taken by the union. Lecturers, researchers, administrators, computer staffs, librarians and postgraduates are involved in the struggle and they will strike for fourteen days intermittently over four-weeks. Throughout the whole period they will also work-to-contract, which means staff will not undertake voluntary duties.
The strike is a response to plans to slash benefits of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. According to the University and College Union (UCU) this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up. Unsurprisingly UCU members support action. In the ballot authorizing the strike 88 percent of members who voted approved striking. The turnout was 58 percent.
In an article featured in London Review of books on 16 February 2018, Waseem Yaqoob, lecturer at the University of Cambridge, argues: “The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has more than 400,000 members. According to Universities UK (UUK), the employers’ association, USS faces a deficit that requires its transformation from a defined benefit scheme, providing staff with a guaranteed retirement income, into a defined contribution scheme, made up of individual pension funds subject to the vagaries of the stock market. These changes, imposed in the teeth of opposition from union negotiators, will leave everyone who currently pays into USS worse off.”
Photo credits: BBC
The employers’ association is seeking to push through the changes at all costs and have refused to negotiate with UCU. The projected USS pensions deficit – used to justify the attack – is based on a worst-case scenario where every university in the scheme went bust. This argument is ridiculous because there is next to nil chance the tens of organisations and universities linked to the USS will go under under simultaneously.
In actuality, UK universities are getting richer and those riches are pooling at the top. Since 2009, lecturers’ real wages have fallen by 16% whilst vice-chancellors and senior managers enjoy ever-growing salaries. Beyond the staff, the students also receive less from the thriving universities. They finish their degrees with massive debts and with little prospect of finding a decent job despite paying £9,250 a year.
Pickets and rallies have been organised in almost every single university around the country. In some cities ‘Teach-out actions’ were called by lecturers and students in order to make their voice heard. The support of the students has been impressive and undeterred by the strike affecting them the most.
The conditions that underlie the strike is the marketization of education – through the weapon of privatisation – to transform the nature of education and turn students into clients. And further, if the bosses are successful in gutting the USS a dangerous precedent will be set for all public pension schemes. Support the strike!
The strike dates are:
Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)