Staff vote for action to defend pensions: solidarity from students!

Save our Pensions!

Yesterday, UCU members in 69 pre-1992 universities returned an overwhelming vote in favour of industrial action to fight off attacks on their pensions. As students, we offer our full solidarity to staff.

The attacks – which the employers are justifying using distorted analyses and dodgy statistics – threaten to wipe as much as 27% off some members’ pensions and to deny retiring university workers financial security after a career of service to education. We have written more about the nature of the attacks, the employers’ distortions, and the potential for damage to our education here.

The turnout was higher than any ballot since the UCU formation 8 years ago. 78% voted to authorise strikes, and 87% for action short of a strike, potentially to include a boycott of setting and marking students’ assessments. The UCU has given the employers a final opportunity this week to withdraw their threats. If there are not serious improvements, union representatives will meet Friday to decide the precise programme of action.

If workers are forced to take action, NCAFC will help provide materials for student support campaigns. For now, we urge you to start organising on your campus – we have written previously about action you could take locally.

Stop the pensions raid: support our staff

Save our Pensions!

On 1 October, UCU members (academic and related staff) in the pre-1992 universities began voting in an industrial action ballot. They are considering action to defend their pensions from a vicious raid being attempted by their employers. As students, we wholeheartedly support our staff in this battle. At the end of this article, you will find tips and tools about what you can do on your campus to help the fight.

The USS pension scheme has already been attacked once in recent years. In 2011, changes were pushed through which split the scheme, forcing worse pension conditions onto new entrants to the career track, and onto existing staff who take career breaks (disproportionately affecting women who are more likely to pause their careers for childcare). At the time, activists said it was just a matter of time before they came for the more senior scheme members’ pensions too.

Sadly, inevitably, we were right. That is now happening. But it’s not just the earlier generations of staff being hit, but everyone – newer staff will have their already-poor conditions further degraded along with their more senior colleagues.

The employers have cooked up an exaggerated “crisis” in the USS pension scheme in order to justify this attack. Though there is much more money going into the scheme than coming out, they have used a malicious, politically-motivated analysis method to claim there is a major deficit. They do this by using what Leeds UCU’s President has called a “zombie apocalypse” scenario – imagining that all pre-1992 universities were going to shut, simultaneously, tomorrow, leaving the scheme to pay out all their former staff’s future pensions with no income. Only with this absurd assumption can their analysis create the scale of deficit they allege needs to be resolved.

And how do they want to resolve this absurdly-constructed deficit? By reining in spending on marketing gimmicks and senior managers’ salaries? No. As ever, they want workers to take the brunt, by paying in more now and getting much less out when they retire. Employer contributions, though slightly increased in some parts of the scheme, are to be significantly lower in others. The returns in retirement will not even be guaranteed – financial insecurity will follow workers to the grave. Some staff will have as much as 27% of their pension stolen by these means.

The result will be a pension scheme much less favourable than TPS, the one for their counterparts in post-1992 universities. If the USS changes go through, it could set a precedent encouraging the post-1992 universities to launch similar attacks.

What’s more, the proposed changes also de-collectivise the scheme, reducing the amount that gains and risks are spread between staff. Individualising staff members’ pensions is a key step toward making it cheaper and administratively easier to outsource them. So the changes are potentially paving the ground for further privatisation of our universities. Even before that, by stretching, stressing and demoralising our educators, and even pushing them to leave for greener pastures, the changes will damage the quality of our education.

Attempts to negotiate have been unsuccessful, so workers are voting on whether to authorise strikes and actions short of strike, including boycotts of assessment marking and of employee appraisal processes, which are likely to begin soon after the ballot ends on 20 October – unless the employers relent. If it comes to this, the disruption will be entirely the responsibility of the employers. That is unfortunate for us as students, but by supporting and maximising the strength of the campaign, we stand the best chance of a swift victory and a positive resolution for both students and workers in the longer-term.

This is the latest in a string of attacks on the earnings and working conditions of our educators. We must join this fight, to defend education, to defend our staff, and to stand for the right to a decent pension and a decent retirement – not just for university workers, not just for public sector workers, but for all workers, present and future, including ourselves.

What can you do?

The industrial action ballot will close on 20 October, and action could begin very soon after if the vote is “yes”. So if you’re in a pre-1992 university, start preparing now and be ready for 21 October! Here are some ideas:

  • Make contact with your local UCU branch and activists in it, if you haven’t already.
  • Propose the model motion below to your student union’s general meeting, council or executive, and try to spark debate about the issues.
  • Produce material (online, plus leaflets and posters) that let students know what’s happening and why they should support their staff.
  • Student unions and campus activist groups should contact their local UCU branches to discuss supportive action.
  • Write an open letter or a petition to your Vice-Chancellor, demanding that they intervene in the employers’ forum to halt the attack on pensions and so prevent the industrial action affecting students.
  • Consider protests, stunts and direct actions in your university. Why not approach UCU officers and activists about planning a joint demonstration or stunt on campus to launch the campaign very soon after the ballot? Pending the result, of course!
  • If there are strikes, join the picket lines and help workers to shut down your university.
  • Emphasise mutual solidarity in the campaign: this year, students will be fighting against tuition fees and staff will be fighting for their pensions. We stand a better chance of winning both battles as a joint force, supporting one another.

Model motion: “Support our staff – stop the pensions raid”

This union notes:

  1. Academics and related staff at this and other pre-1992 universities currently face a raid on their pensions in the USS scheme.
  2. University managers claim there is a black hole in the scheme – however, their estimate is based on the ridiculous assumption that every university in the country will close at the same time, and the pensions scheme would have to pay out. In fact there is much more money going into the scheme than coming out.
  3. Pension schemes are generally paid into jointly by the employee and the employer.
  4. To address this alleged black hole, university managers are demanding that staff contributions are increased and payouts are decreased.
  5. Some staff will have up to 27% of their pension stolen if the changes go through.
  6. Staff have tried to negotiate through their union, the UCU, but their employers’ refusal to listen has forced them to ballot on whether to take industrial action. If they are forced to act to defend themselves, they will boycott marking and boycott appraisal processes and they could strike.

This union believes:

  1. When there is so much wealth in our universities and in our societies, it is wrong that people’s right to a decent retirement is undermined in this way.
  2. When the people who make our education possible are over-stretched and under-paid, or pushed to leave for better opportunities elsewhere, the quality of our education suffers.
  3. Education workers lose pay when they take industrial action, and they do it as a last resort. Senior managers are to blame for leaving them with no choice. The short-term disruption is more than worth the long-term benefits to education, so we should support them.
  4. Students and campus workers are strongest together. The UCU trade union has supported our campaigns against fees, we should back them on this.
  5. The stronger the support for our staff, the more likely we are to see a fast, positive resolution to disruption.

This union resolves:

  1. To write a letter from the sabbatical officers to the Vice-Chancellor, demanding that they intervene in the employers’ forum to halt the attack on pensions and so prevent the industrial action affecting students.
  2. To support our staff if they are forced to take industrial action.
  3. To inform students about the reasons for the dispute and why it is in our interests to support staff.
  4. To organise and to support student petitioning, protest and direct action in support of our staff’s right to a decent pension.

Labour leaders’ refusal to set policy on education funding is cowardly dithering

Photo of Liam Byrne MP (Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills) at a podium

Just weeks after releasing his feeble, reactionary essay on education policy, “Robbins Rebooted”, Labour’s shadow HE minister Liam Byrne has said it would be “tough” to make its fees policies clear before December. This is a back-track from Labour’s earlier position. The party had previously appeared likely to announce that they would cut the undergrad UK/EU fee cap from £9000 to £6000. That would have been far from enough – we would continue to fight the proposals and demand free education – but at least it would have been a clear plan. This retreat echoes Byrne’s refusal in “Robbins Rebooted” to go beyond vague noises to clear commitments on a postgraduate fee policy.

The Labour leadership says it is holding off committing to spending on this and other areas, but it is still banking on students’ votes, which it describes as “critical”. It has caved and embraced the logic of austerity, and expects us to do the same. We refuse.

There is no justification for this conservatism. The money is there: in fact, our society is awash in immense wealth. The only issue is that that wealth is squandered, locked up in the bank accounts, mansions and businesses of the rich. Labour claims to be the party of the working class. If so, it should commit to taking back the wealth that class creates, and putting it to better use. Propose serious, properly enforced taxes on the income, assets and businesses of the wealthy, and take the banks under democratic control. Use this vast wealth to provide free, accessible education at every level, to rebuild and improve the NHS and other public services, and to guarantee decent wages and benefits.

Simple.

Trade unionists support the demonstration for free education and donate to NCAFC

ucl_ucu_strike_28jan2014_marchingThis Thursday, a general meeting of the UCU trade union branch at UCL voted with no opposition to back November’s national demo for free education and to donate £300 to NCAFC’s work. We are very grateful to our trade union comrades for their support.

The UCU and other trade unions in education have long backed the abolition of tuition fees, even during the period when our own union, the NUS, abandoned this stance. Our campaigns, our protests and direct actions have always been strengthened by the solidarity of campus workers. Likewise, NCAFC has built for student solidarity with workers’ struggles in our colleges and universities and beyond. This is not just because it’s the right thing to do but because we’re stronger together.

It’s particularly apt that UCL UCU should offer its support, as it was at UCL that the NCAFC was founded in 2010. As we enter this next stage of the fight for free, democratic and just education, we are grateful for the continued support of campus workers is a real boost. And since NCAFC’s work is carried out entirely by the volunteered efforts of its members, and funded only by members’ and supporters’ donations, financial contributions like this are warmly received and very much needed. Organising and campaigning require resources!

NCAFC members will be approaching more trade union branches over the coming weeks, and we hope that this is just the first of many supportive branches. If you are a trade unionist and would like to propose that your branch support us and the campaign for free education, please get in touch by emailing [email protected].

Student representatives offer solidarity for next steps in workers’ campaign for #FairPayInHE

The following letter has been signed by representatives in student unions, NUS and NCAFC, and will soon be sent to the committees in the higher education trade unions that decide industrial action strategy in the current campaign for decent pay for higher education workers.

Comment below, or email pso [at] uclu.org, to add your signature!

 

*****

 

Dear UCU Higher Education Committee members,

CC: Unison HE Service Group, Unite HE Sector Committee, EIS-ULA Executive Committee

We are writing as student representatives to offer our solidarity as you consider the next steps in the campaign for fair pay at your HEC meeting this Friday 14 February.

We support your campaign wholeheartedly. We have supported your protests and picket lines, and some of us have occupied our campuses in solidarity. We know that students lose out and education suffers when your members – the people who make our members’ education happen – are underpaid, overworked and treated with disrespect. Moreover, our postgraduate members are among those receiving insulting wages (if any) for their vital teaching work, and students considering working in education are facing an uncertain future. And we remember the solidarity you and your members offered when we marched and occupied against the tuition fees which are now lining the pockets of senior managers and private businesses instead of supporting your members. So we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with education workers, and fight together for an education system that serves the needs of students, workers and society.

We understand that to win on pay will require a strong, disruptive escalation of industrial action. We know that this is a difficult decision for you and your members, as well as affecting students. But we will support your action because we know that to allow unfair treatment of education workers to continue and worsen would do much more damage to all of us in the longer term, and the employers’ intransigence has left no other choice. So we urge you to move forward in the knowledge you can call on us for whatever help your members may need, whether that is fundraising for strike pay, complementary direct action or any other support.

In solidarity,

Ben Towse (UCLU Postgraduate Students’ Officer, NCAFC National Committee)

Rosie Huzzard (NUS NEC, NCAFC NC)

Gordon Maloney (NUS Scotland President)

Shelly Asquith (Students’ Union University of the Arts President, NUS London Chair)

Katie Kokkinou (UCLU Welfare & International Officer, NUS London Committee)

Michael Chessum (University of London Union President, NCAFC London Rep)

Daniel Warham (UCLU Democracy & Communications Officer)

Hannah Webb (UCLU External Affairs & Campaigns Officer, NCAFC NC)

Aisling Gallagher (NUS-USI Women’s Officer, NCAFC NC)

Shreya Paudel (NUS International Students’ Committee)

James McAsh (NUS NEC, NCAFC NC)

Omar Raii (NCAFC Black* Power Rep, UCLU Halls Accommodation Rep)

Matt Reuben (Royal Holloway SU Disabled Students Officer, NCAFC Disabled Students Rep)

Emma Brownbill (NCAFC LGBTQ Rep)

Beth Redmond (NCAFC NC)

Max Crema (Unison Scotland Labour Youth Rep)

Grace Jeremy (UCLU Disabled Students’ Officer)

Søren Goard (Goldsmiths SU Education Officer)

Daniel Cooper (University of London Union VP, NCAFC NC)

Jamie Green (Royal Holloway SU VP Communications & Campaigns)

Helena McCoy (NUS Welfare Committee, Stanmore College VP Campaigns & Welfare)

Matt Withers (Central School of Speech & Drama SU President, NUS London Committee)

Clifford Fleming (Manchester SU Campaigns Officer, Young Greens Co-Chair)

James Perkins (City University London SU VP Education, NUS London Committee)

Hattie Craig (University of Birmingham Guild of Students VP Education, NCAFC NC)

Areeb Ullah (Kings College London SU VP Academic Affairs, NUS Black Students’ Campaign Committee)

Deborah Hermanns (NCAFC NC, Birmingham Guild NUS Delegate)

Sam Rae (Sheffield SU Education Officer)

Rob Henthorn (Aberdeen University Students’ Association President for Education)

Rosie Dammers (Manchester SU Education Officer)

Natalie Poernig (Central School of Speech & Drama SU Vice President (Democracy))

Tom Wragg (University of Birmingham Guild of Students VP Democracy & Resources)

Howard Littler (Goldsmiths SU Campaigns Officer)

Keir Gallagher (UCLU Education & Campaigns Officer)

Kirsty Haigh (Edinburgh University Students’ Association VP Services, NCAFC NC)

Adam Bland (University of Central Lancashire SU Education Officer)

Jack Saffery-Rowe (Royal Holloway SU LGBT+ Officer)

James Elliott (Oxford University SU Disabled Students’ Officer)

Hannah Roberts (Students’ Union University of the Arts Education Officer)

Gary Paterson (NUS Scotland Executive Committee & University of Strathclyde Students Association)

Neill Clark (Glasgow Caledonian University Students’ Association VP Education)

Blane Abercrombie (Students’ Association University of the West of Scotland President)

James Moohan (Edinburgh College Students’ Association VP Education)

Michelle Bingham (South Lanarkshire College Students’ Association President)

Updates from #copsoffcampus National Day of Action

Want to continue the fight for democracy, workers rights, free education and against police repression? Join activists from local campaigns across the country at this demo and conference in Birmingham on 29/1/2014.

  •  Breaking News: Aberdeen and Manchester Universities are in occupation – solidarity!
  • Protests in Leeds, London, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester…

Leeds University Protest

Who killed Mark Duggan?

Stay safe everyone:

Paul Mason (Channel 4 News) reporting from Malet Street, London today “This is the new face of student protest…This is not the generation of three years ago, this is freshers from Oxford, Birmingham, Sussex”

Leeds Student Resistance #copsoffcampus demo:
leeds

Photos from Sheffield protest today here.

joshrock

Quote from Manchester Anticapitalist students:

“a group of supporters stormed into the Social Responsibility office to occupy and make the point that any University which cuts courses, invites the police to attack their students, and refuses to support staff demands for decent pay, cannot honestly call itself socially responsible.”

Students and protesters assembling outside ULU.

Demos and solidarity protests in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Derby, Cardiff and Sheffield due to start in five minutes (2PM).

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Trade Union Solidarity With Student Protests from Unite, IWGB, UCU, PCS and GMB!

solidarity is a weapon

Solidarity messages for today’s protests against police repression of students are flooding in. Today we have an extended blog post on the Young Members website of the PCS Union for civil servants:

As a point of principle alone, we as trade unionists should stand in solidarity with students. These attacks are nothing more than politically motivated attempts to undermine the right to protest and shut down any dissent against the Government’s plans to further privatise and run down education.

In this case, the student movement is being targeted partly out of fears that this could be the start of a new wave of student protests akin to those that rocked the country several years ago. More importantly though, it’s also because its taking place alongside a critical dispute involving all the Higher Education unions over the battle for decent pay. A strong united student movement that is actively supporting a solid HE strike across campuses through direct action has the potential to bring education to a halt. The unions could win, and if this happens, the effects across not just higher education, but the trade union movement would be felt. To prevent this happening, the state is flexing its muscles.

The full post from PCS Young Members can be seen here.

 

Unite the Union’s General Secretary Len McCluskey has also spoken out against the police and university management tactics used against student protests:

Len McCluskey said: “Unite is showing strong solidarity with the students of the UK who are being demonised by a coalition government which has precious little to offer anyone under the age of 40.

“Students have a legitimate right to protest peacefully against a governing elite intent on privatising higher education and cutting budgets.

“Some vice chancellors have adopted macho tactics to crush dissent and the police appear to be collaborating with this hardline approach. It’s time to back off.”

Full article here.

 

UCU – the university and college lecturers union, whose industrial action sparked many of the occupations and protests last week, have stated their full support. Many UCU members have written to the Guardian this week giving their support, and the UCU website said:

UCU also welcomes the support of students and their unions for our current industrial action which is aimed at securing a fair pay offer.

To that end, we endorse the Early Day Motion put down by John McDonnell MP which calls upon university authorities to respond positively to requests by protesting students and staff for ‘meaningful dialogue’ rather than adopt heavy handed responses. We also fully endorse Mr McDonnell’s view that, ‘universities should recognise that students have a right to protest as long as it is peaceful’.

Full article here.

 

Students have also received support from the Southern Region Young Members section of the GMB, who said:

GMB young members support students and university workers in their struggle against police violence, the fight for better pay and terms and conditions and defending the right to protest.

GMB members will join the cops off campus demo’s today in a show of solidarity and to fight for decent pay and terms and conditions for ALL staff on campus.

Students and workers face them same oppression from the state when they try and rise up. This campaign is embedded in workers’ struggles, whether that be the HE/FE pay dispute, the outsourced workers struggles like 3 Cosas, or the increase in casualisation, low pay and unemployment and underemployment of young people.

Solidarity!

Report from NCAFC Summer Training, Edinburgh, and plans for the Autumn Term

This year’s NCAFC Summer Training at Edinburgh College was attended by around 60 student activists from institutions across the country including Edinburgh University, Edinburgh College, Aberdeen University, Kent University, Birmingham University, Royal Holloway, UCL, Swansea University, Sheffield University, Queen Mary University Belfast, Middlesex University, and London Metropolitan University.

petequote

The weekend included a diverse range of workshops on a range of subjects including International Students activism, Campaigning around the NHS, Housing Campaigns, Working with Trade Uniosn and more.

In a plenary session on the Saturday, feedback from a range of workshops was brought together into a really exciting set of plans for the term, and year ahead, shaping NCAFC’s upcoming campaign priorities.

 

 

 

 

 

Campaign around Student Debt

  • Resolved to write to Nick Clegg, which can be seen here, demanding he reverse the plans to sell the student loan book, staged direct action on campuses around the country, and moving towards a national demo early in 2014.
  • This should include mobilising graduates as this affects them too.

National Mobilisation Around Campus Struggles

  • NCAFC resolved to back and campaign around struggles at the University of London, including the Tres Cosas campaign and the closure of ULU.
  • We also discussed mobilising around the cuts at the University of Liverpool, but since our training the campaign has won a victory on campus!
  • The attendees agreed that the unilateral closure of student unions by management is an attack that is likely to spread across the country if not stopped now.

Building Local Anti Cuts Groups

  • A number of activists from Birmingham University, UCL, ULU and Royal Holloway resolved to go away and write a hand book for ‘how to build a local anti cuts group’ for activists across the country.sidquote

Workers’ Rights/Workers’ Struggles

  • Campaigning around zero hours contracts was discussed and Mike Shaw (Edinburgh) and Liam McNulty (ULU/Unison) resolved to do further research into what can be done.
  • There was some discussion of the employability agenda being pushed in partnership between Universities and SUs, which may back up the marketisation of education. A task group resolved to go away and continue to discuss this.

General Election Strategy

  • There was a session on general election strategy over the weekend, but we’re keeping schtum on our plans until they’re more fully formed. If you’re an NCAFC member see contact details below to get involved.

NHS Campaigning

  • There was discussion around how to campaign around cuts and privatisation of the NHS, with further discussion at the NCAFC/Medsin event held at Goldsmith’s University the following week. For more information on how to get involved with this campaign, email Pete at [email protected], or check out studentsforthenhs.blogspot.com

Internal Structures/Sexism

  • There were some internal discussions over the weekend too, looking at the structures and democracy of NCAFC, and also the sexism within the student movement.
  • Some good action points came out of this. NCAFC Women are planning to hold Public Speaking Workshops just before NCAFC Conference in November, Facebook event here. We also agreed to continue discussion around sexist behaviours in student men, and how we can improve upon them and make our spaces more inclusive.
  • Our members organising web forum has now been launched, if you want to get in on the discussion, email [email protected] with your name and we’ll send you some login details (all current members should have been sent this already).

Campaigning In The Nations

  • Lots of the stuff we discussed was England-specific, which seemed a bit strange seeing as we were in Scotland! We discussed how we can apply our campaigning to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Rob Henthorn from Aberdeen raised how the biggest issue in Scotland right now is the changes in Further Education, and we need to be campaigning around that! The room asked the NCAFC Scotland committee to let us know what and how we can do to campaign around this. We also discussed the devolved issues with the NHS and how it impacts differently on different nations.

 

Contact details for each of the upcoming campaigns – get in touch and we’ll add you to the discussion:

Student Debt: [email protected]

University of London campaign[email protected]/[email protected]

Building Local Anti Cuts Groups: vpe@guild.bham.ac.uk (Hattie Craig)

General Election: [email protected]

NHS Campaigning[email protected] (Pete Campbell)

Zero Hours Contracts: [email protected]

Employability: [email protected] (Emma Brownbill)/[email protected]

NCAFC Women: [email protected]

FE in Scotland[email protected]

Romanian students’ university occupation

Comment by Ioana Cerasella Chis, a Romanian student studying in the UK

On the 26th of March thirty students at the Babes Bolyai University in Cluj occupied a lecture theatre in response to the government not implementing their promised education policies and the declining quality of education. Meanwhile, other students at the University of Bucharest occupied their History Building in solidarity, making similar demands.

[Read more...]

USI Congress 2013 – Report from Aisling Gallagher, NUS USI Women’s Officer

NCAFC are republishing this statement and report from USI Congress, by Aisling Gallagher, NUS USI Women’s Officer

[Read more...]