Model Motion to Back UCU Industrial Action in Pensions Dispute

UCU poster reading "YOUR PENSION. AXED. Fight back against a brutal attack on your pension"

UCU trade union members have just voted to take industrial action against major attacks on staff pensions, affecting 61 universities (listed here). Please check out and share the article here to find out more about it, and pass this model motion in your student union as part of the solidarity campaign!

Motion to Back UCU Industrial Action in Pensions Dispute

[X] Students’ Union notes:

  1. In the period 27 Nov 2017 to 19 Jan 2018, the University and College Union (UCU) balloted on industrial action in Spring, in response to damaging proposals from employers to the USS pension scheme. 1
  2. Nationally, 88% of UCU members who voted backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike. The turnout was over 58%2.
  3. The USS proposals will end guaranteed pension benefits, making final pensions depend on investment performance rather than workers’ contributions. They risk the futures of academic staff, effectively destroying the pensions scheme.
  4. The USS pension scheme’s own analysis shows that the employers could muster the funds to avoid this and keep guarantees on pension payouts.
  5. UCU have consistently supported student campaigns and actions.3
  6. NUS Conference has previously voted that our default position as students should be to back industrial action by education workers, because we understand that working conditions and teaching quality are so closely tied, and because we understand that the alliance of solidarity between students and education workers is vital to our own campaigns.
  7. NUS have resolved to support the industrial action.

[X] Students’ Union believes:

  1. Student-worker solidarity should be central to everything we do.
  2. Although industrial action is likely to affect students in the short-term, fighting for pensions means fighting for the long-term health of a profession of which students are primary beneficiaries.
  3. Threats to staff working conditions are part of a wider picture of cuts to education funding and marketisation.
  4. The attacks on different pension schemes are used to play staff against one another – one scheme is undermined, then members of another are told that they must accept attacks on their own scheme on the grounds that it is unfairly better than the first.
  5. These attacks will be most damaging to workers at the beginning of their careers, including our members such as PhD students looking to begin research careers, which could have a devastating impact in years to come. Furthermore, we all have a long-term interest in halting and reversing the erosion of pensions across the labour market.

[X] Students’ Union resolves:

  1. To give full and public support to UCU on any industrial action that follows the ballot result.
  2. To lobby the University to oppose the changes to USS.
  3. To encourage students to show solidarity by not attending lectures and seminars, or using services still in operation, on the strike day(s).
  4. To encourage students to join staff picket lines.
  5. To engage in an educational campaign for our students explaining why the strike is happening and why we should all show solidarity. Staff working conditions are our learning conditions.

References:

1. https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss
2. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9194/University-staff-overwhelmingly-back-strike-action-in-USS-pensions-row
3. https://www.ucu.org.uk/boycott-the-nss

Strike for USS! UCU Now Balloting to Strike over Staff Pensions

 university-and-college-union-ucu-pensions-demonstrators-new

by Dan Davison, Cambridge Universities Labour Club Graduate Officer & NCAFC Postgrads & Education Workers Co-Rep

Over the past couple of weeks, the University and College Union (UCU), the national trade union for academic staff, has been sending out industrial action ballot papers. This is over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the pensions scheme for staff in what are mainly ‘pre-92’ universities: that is, institutions that had university status before the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. In short, the proposed changes would leave staff pensions at the mercy of the pension fund’s gambles on the stock market and we should fight them at every turn. That is why I welcome NUS’ backing of the dispute after a motion submitted by NCAFC activists was voted through their National Executive Committee.

Currently, the USS is what is known as a ‘defined benefits scheme’. In other words, one’s annual pension is linked to salary and service. More specifically, each year of contributions guarantees a defined retirement income to each member. The employers’ consortium, UUK, wants to turn this into a ‘defined contributions scheme’. Under such a scheme, the contributions of individuals and their employers build up as personal investments, which are cashed in on retirement. This move effectively scraps guaranteed pension incomes in favour of a retirement income based on how each individual worker’s ‘investments’ perform on the stock market.

Whilst it is evident from even the USS’ own research that most employers could indeed pay more to protect existing pension benefits, they have chosen not to do so. With USS’ tens of thousands of active contributors, the choice to de-invest in pensions is nothing short of a slap to the face for university staff. Those most affected by the changes will be early career academics, since they have built up the least on the current pension scheme. In an industrial sector already rife with casual employment contracts, this additional insecurity will only make education workers in the beginning stages of their careers even more victimised by the gig economy. Shifting financial risk onto individual workers aids the marketization of education by making such practices as outsourcing and privatisation easier. It could also see talent drawn away from the education sector and towards jobs that struggling workers perceive as more secure.

We in NCAFC support the UCU in their dispute. We can pass motions in our Students’ Unions to back the campaign and any resulting industrial action, including marking boycotts. We can call on activists in Defend Education groups, anti-casualisation campaigns, Labour Clubs, and other bodies on campus to spread word of the ballot and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with academic staff on picket lines if a strike materialises. The ballot closes on 19 January 2018 and, under our repressive trade union laws, we need a turnout of at least 50% for a valid result. Every round of leafletting, every burst of social media promotion, and every conversation with current or potential union members about the dispute could make all the difference. For the sake of our teachers, researchers and other university workers, spread the word to every corner of your campus! Vote yes to strike action! Vote yes to action short of a strike!

Justice for University of London Workers!

Placard: "If outsourcing is such good value for money, outsource management!"Solidarity with workers at University of London who are going on strike on November 21 for in-house contracts, secure hours, and pay rises to various staff.

These workers, made up of security guards, porters, cleaners, and receptionists, are organized with their trade union Independent Workers of Great Britain.

Students from various London unis have started a solidarity campaign, Justice for University of London Workers, which has already been formally supported by Students’ Union UCL.

We call on students and others in the community to support this campaign and get involved!

What can you do?

More information about the dispute can be found here.


Motion: Justice for University of London workers

Please adapt this motion as appropriate for your union and propose it to a general meeting, council or other democratic decision-making forum in your union!

Students’ Union notes

  1. Workers at the University of London (UoL, of which [your university] is a part) are campaigning against unjust working conditions. They want an end to discriminatory outsourcing and insecure zero hour contracts, respect at work, and the pay rises UoL promised them 6 years ago.
  2. Most of them are on low wages, with some having to work 70-plus hours per week to get by. If UoL had kept its pay promises, security guards for instance would be earning 25% more.[1]
  3. These workers are disproportionately BME, women and migrants. Tackling low pay and precarity are necessary to closing the discriminatory gaps in our university.
  4. They have tried negotiating, and have now been forced to begin calling strikes as the university managers aren’t listening.
  5. Students from [your university] and other UoL institutions have come together to set up a student and community support campaign, Justice for University of London Workers.[2]
  6. Our union has a record of solidarity for workers at the University of London, and they have reciprocated with support for our campaigns against fees.

Students’ Union believes

  1. The workers’ demands are right and this injustice is a stain on our university community. It is wrong that senior managers get exorbitant salaries and outsourcing companies’ bosses get their pockets lined while poorer workers are subject to these conditions.
  2. Solidarity between students and university staff is a reciprocal relationship that vitally helps our own campaigns too.
  3. Workers fighting against low pay and precarity push up conditions in the whole labour market, so while students are also struggling in exploitative jobs we have an interest in supporting campaigns like this.

Students’ Union resolves

  1. To support this campaign by the UoL workers through their union, the IWGB, and the student and community solidarity campaign, Justice for UoL Workers.
  2. To support campaign action by the workers and student supporters, including industrial action, protests, lobbying and direct action.
  3. To promote a fundraising campaign for the workers’ strike fund.
  4. To use our communication channels, including all-student emails, to inform students of the campaign and future campaign events, and to encourage them to get involved.
  5. For a representative of the Students’ Union to send an email to the Vice Chancellor of UoL, Adrian Smith, calling on him to meet the demands of the campaign.

References

[1] https://www.facebook.com/uoliwgb/

[2] https://www.facebook.com/JusticeforUOLWorkers/

Support education workers on strike for #FairPayInHE

fair payThis week, the UCU trade union (representing academic and related workers, including many students who teach as postgrads) announced the opening of industrial action in their campaign for fairer pay in higher education. They will be on strike in universities 25-26 May, and at the same time beginning to work to contract, which means they will refuse to work overtime, set additional work or undertake any voluntary duties like covering timetabled classes for absent colleagues. If the situation does not improve, they are planning further strikes and a marking boycott.

They are fighting to reverse pay cuts that have seen their real-terms income slashed by 14.5% since 2009, to close the gender pay gap that sees women systematically paid less, and to push back against the casualization of work in higher education and ensure that casualised staff – like hourly-paid postgrad teaching assistants – are paid equally and in full for their work.

We totally support these demands, and extend our solidarity to staff as they take industrial action to win them. Not only do they deserve better, the unjust treatment of education workers affects students too and damages education. We know that short-term disruption to education as a result of industrial action is worth it to prevent the long-term damage threatened and to push back against the injustices staff face – and we note that the action can be called off as soon as our university managers agree to the demands.

In particular, we would like to extend our support to those workers campaigning to push the often-under-prioritised issues of the gender pay gap and casualisation into the foreground of the dispute, such as the activists of Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (many of whom are students themselves, working as postgraduate teachers).

What can I do?

NCAFC will be organising to support the campaign – keep your eyes peeled for further info. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Sign the petition and share it. This is a simple way to add to the pressure on university managers and show them that students support our staff and we won’t be divided. Sharing the petition is also an easy way to spread awareness of the campaign. You can find the petition here.
  • Reach out to your university’s UCU branch. Let them know you support them, and ask them what you can do together to build the campaign. Maybe you could co-organise a protest or a rally on campus?
  • Build the trade union. If you are a postgrad teacher, join UCU and join the industrial action (and if you’re a postgrad but not teaching right now, you can get involved in the union as a student member for free). And support recruitment drives to get postgrads into the union.
  • Get your student union to support the campaign. Find out what your student union is saying and doing about the campaign. If they’re not already supporting fair pay and the industrial action, call on your SU officers to show solidarity, and if you can, propose a motion for a vote at an SU meeting.
  • Get creative. Think about stunts and direct action to increase the pressure! And ways you can reach other students with information and convince them to back the campaign, from posters all over campus, to social media, to reaching out to clubs and societies.
  • Join the picket lines. On strike days, trade unionists will set up picket lines at entrances to your university – don’t cross these lines, but instead offer them support and help out.

Fight job cuts at Aberdeen University!

Aberdeen student left bannerBy Dexter Govan, Aberdeen Defend Education Campaign

There’s trouble brewing in the north east of Scotland. As Aberdeen faces an oil crisis that’s led to thousands of redundancies, the University of Aberdeen is hoping to add to that number. For those that haven’t made the the 186 mile trip north of the Tweed, the University of Aberdeen is one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world. Founded in 1495, it went on to play a critical role in the development of the Scottish Enlightenment. A proud legacy the current management appear determined to ruin.

The philosophical school of Scottish Common Sense owes much to the University of Aberdeen, and it is a dire shame that our principal Sir Ian Diamond (of the Welsh Diamond review) appears so bereft of it. Due to what may be described kindly as appalling mismanagement or accurately as a zealous commitment to enforce austerity thinking onto the HE sector, the University of Aberdeen has decided to make ‘savings’ of £10.5 million in staffing. By their own calculations this translates directly into 150 redundancies. What is absolutely unacceptable is any suggestion by university management that this will not affect the coveted ‘Student Experience’ at Aberdeen.

The axe will fall on teaching staff. It will be our tutors, our lectures, our university community that will be hit like broadside by these vicious, vindictive cuts. And the sickening but predictable irony of it all, is that it will be imposed on us by a management team who take home six figure salaries and a principal who earns over £300,000 a year.

So as students we must fight these job cuts, which will mean not only the destruction of peoples livelihoods, but will leave a gaping wound in our community. Voluntary redundancies will make up some of the cuts, but many more will be compulsory. Originally planned for July, the University and College Union have negotiated a temporary reprieve from the bloody cleaver of the ‘New Strategic Plan’. Many of the university managers may see this a success on their part. After all, delaying any compulsory redundancies until November gives them more time to bully staff into accepting voluntary redundancy. However, this delay is in fact a victory for the union. It’s a victory because it pushes direct strike action into term time. It’s a victory because it means students will return to our campus. It’s a victory because as students we will stand with staff and grind this ancient institution to a halt.

Of course the management team at the university will attempt to play students off against staff. Students will get emails saying that the management are committed to our education, and hope that we aren’t alarmed by staff out on picket lines defending their livelihoods. We will be more than alarmed, we will be incensed that behind this patronising rhetoric is the power to end this dispute. There is no giant hole in the finances of the university. Instead management see an opportunity to maximise profits. Our loyalty as students isn’t to any vice-principal, it’s to the over-worked teaching staff in our university community. It is an indicator of the severity of the situation that before the reprieve, UCU Aberdeen balloted for strike action – it passed overwhelmingly. It will surely pass again when voluntary redundancies fail in November. Before then we can’t afford to remain idle, as students and staff we must stand united and ensure that every student on our campus knows about the callous actions of our institution. We must ensure that we mobilise our community to fight the cuts and reject the rapid decline of our university teaching. Come November our community of students and workers will show that the university does not exist without us, and that a threat to one is a threat to all. We hope that others across the country will support us in this struggle.

FAQ: Everything you need to know about the campaign to defend staff pensions

Save our Pensions!We hope this FAQ guide will be useful for activists and student union officers to understand the ins and outs of the current USS pensions dispute. Please feel free to copy and adapt it for your activist group or student union website.


What’s happening?

What’s an assessment boycott?

What about strikes?

What is the threat to staff pensions?

Are the cuts necessary?

So the boycott could be called off?

What does this mean for the future?

Why should students support the campaign?

Won’t we just have to pay for better pensions with higher fees?

Don’t lecturers have really good pay and pensions anyway?

What can students do?

Model motion for student unions

I’m a postgraduate teaching assistant as well as a student, what can I do?

Check here to see if your University is involved


What’s happening?

University bosses are proposing an attack on the USS (University Superannuation Scheme) pension scheme. If they get away with it, the proposals will harm the pensions of every single scheme member – academic and related staff in the pre-1992 universities.

Their trade union, the UCU, has attempted to negotiate, but the employers refused to withdraw these proposals. UCU members therefore voted overwhelmingly to authorise industrial action, potentially including an assessment boycott and strikes. The employers were then given another chance to back down, but refused again. UCU was therefore forced to announce that an assessment boycott would begin on 6 November.  Have a look at the bottom of this page to see if your University is affected.

What’s an assessment boycott?

From 6 November, staff participating in the boycott will not set or mark assessments until an improved deal protects their pensions. This will affect coursework, assignments and exams. Trade union members will continue to teach seminars and lectures.

What about strikes?

If the employers continue stubbornly refusing to make a better deal, strikes may be added to the campaign of action. If any institution chooses to victimise staff for taking part in the boycott (for instance, by making disproportionate pay deductions), UCU is likely to call national action in solidarity with members in that institution, which could include striking.

What is the threat to staff pensions?

The employers are proposing that pension scheme members should have their pay-outs in retirement cut – by as much as 27% in some cases. They are also proposing that defined guarantees on part of the pay-outs be removed, so that instead of a scheme where you know what you put in and what you get out, our staff’s financial security in retirement will depend entirely on stock market gambling by fund managers.

This comes on top of the attacks made in 2011. The scheme was split, forcing worse pension conditions onto new entrants to the career, and onto existing staff who take career breaks (disproportionately affecting women who are more likely to pause their careers for childcare). At the time, we said it was just a matter of time before the employers came for the more senior members too and forced them into a worse scheme, which is now happening.

However, it’s not just them but all members of the scheme, new and old, who stand to lose out under the latest proposals. Benefits are being “revalued” downwards – significantly. The result will be that staff in these institutions will be substantially worse-off in retirement than those who worked in the post-1992 universities, even though the older universities are not worse off financially. Presumably though, we can expect the bosses of the newer universities to make similar attacks if these ones succeed.

Are the cuts necessary?

The pre-1992 universities have enough money to support decent pensions for their staff (as well as marketing gimmicks and exorbitant six-figure salaries for senior managers). So why are they imposing these changes?

They say there is a massive deficit in the pension scheme. However, much more money is going into the scheme than coming out, the fund’s investments are growing (by £8bn since 2011), and returns have exceeded inflation and average earnings. They even gave the fund’s most highly paid manager a 50% raise last year to reward their “sustained outperformance”!

So what do they mean? They are talking about a “notional deficit” – forecasting their ability to pay out into the future. So far, so sensible. However, in order to manufacture the massive notional deficit they are using to justify the attacks, the employers have to make some incredibly dodgy assumptions:

  • They use what Leeds UCU’s President 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.
  • They misused statistics to falsely claim that staff life expectancy had increased massively.
  • They pick and choose the economic assumptions they make in order to make each factor maximise the estimated deficit. So when estimating future salaries, they assume the economy will do well. But in order to say that their investments will do badly and so yield lower pay-outs, in the same analysis they assume the economy will do badly! Statisticians have called them out for this.

The proposals are so bad that even a few employers are speaking out against them! The University of Warwick’s senior managers have said they believe the proposals use “unnecessarily pessimistic assumptions” and are “forcing much starker reductions in benefits than may prove necessary”. They have also been criticised by the University of Oxford for using dodgy statistics to try and cloud the extent of the cuts to benefits.

Finally, even if there really was a massive deficit, education workers shouldn’t be asked to foot the bill. That money should come from university senior managers six-figure salaries, from marketing gimmicks, from the profits of companies running outsourced services, and if necessary from taxing the rich to increase university funding. There is enough money in universities, and in our society more broadly, to provide much better pensions than currently, ensuring a secure retirement for every worker.

So the boycott could be called off?

Yes! If universities simply withdrew their threatened attacks and negotiated a fair and beneficial pension scheme for our staff, the boycott could be called off tomorrow! The action is only being taken because our staff have been left with no choice.

What does this mean for the future?

We can see there are at least three potential goals for the employers and the government.

First, there is the removal of defined guarantees on part of the retirement pay-outs. This is likely the first step – a ‘foot in the door’ – towards further reductions in the proportion of pay-outs that are guaranteed: eventually the so-called “defined benefits” portion of the pension could be reduced to zero! Removing guarantees on payouts is about shifting financial risk away from the collective onto the individual, and away from the employers to the workers – a trend we’ve seen in the handling of pensions across the economy under neoliberalism. About guaranteeing constrained spending on education, at the expense of financial insecurity pursuing retired workers to the grave.

Another “benefit” of this shift is that de-collectivising pension commitments makes it easier to package up groups of workers, lift them out, and outsource them to private companies! The kind of outsourcing we’ve seen universities use to wash their hands of the conditions of cleaners, caterers, security guards and even postgrad teaching assistants, while making tidy profits for private companies, could be coming next for academic staff.

Finally, the changes will help them to make spending cuts in education later. Because the alleged deficit has been massively exaggerated, reducing future pension pay-outs actually means that the fund won’t need as much income to sustain retirees. That extra slack could be used to cut the employers’ cash contributions to pensions (a leak in 2011 revealed that, in the long-term, the employers are aiming to do just that). Or, they could cut future staff numbers by downsizing departments, or cut future staff pay, since they won’t need so many contributions from those future workers to sustain future retirees’ pay-outs.

Why should students support the campaign?

The people who make our education happen are under attack. That affects the quality of our education too! When staff are treated badly, subjected to financial security, and overstretched trying to make ends meet, education suffers. Moreover, talented staff could be forced to consider leaving for jobs where they are treated better.

Moreover, as explained above, the changes will make it easier to outsource teaching to private companies that will prioritise their profits over our education, and to make education spending cuts in the future.

Finally, we all have a long-term interest in our society providing decent jobs that we can go into, with good pay and good pensions, in academia and beyond. Fighting for decent pensions in universities is part of fighting for decent pensions for all workers.

The stronger our support for our staff, the stronger their campaign will be and the sooner we can force the university bosses to give in – and so the sooner the marking boycott can end with a positive resolution, benefitting both students and workers.

Won’t we just have to pay for better pensions with higher fees?

We shouldn’t have to. As explained above, the cuts aren’t really necessary. And the universities certainly haven’t been linking pensions to fees – this isn’t the first attack on staff pensions in the last few years, but at the same time, undergrad, postgrad, UK and international student fees have all been going up massively.

Like us, the UCU oppose tuition fees and support free, funded education. Students and workers should fight together for a decently-resourced, democratic education system where everyone is treated well and nobody has to scrape by in financial hardship.

Don’t lecturers have really good pay and pensions anyway?

Some senior academics certainly get comparatively good salaries (after decades of precarious work). But a huge number of staff are in increasingly insecure work, under pressure from successive years of pay cuts. Academia is now one of the most casualised industries in our society! Women workers are particularly badly treated, on the sharp end of a 17.3% median gender pay gap which translates into lower pension pay-outs in retirement too.

Yes, the pension scheme they are defending is better than the ones many other workers have – but that’s only because similar attacks have already taken away other workers’ pensions! If these workers lose their pensions too, other ordinary workers won’t benefit – the only people who benefit are the ones at the top. The solution is not to drag everyone down, but to come together to defend what we still have, and fight for better for everyone – because every worker deserves a decent pension.

What can students do?

  • Make contact with your local UCU branch and activists in it, if you haven’t already, to discuss how you can help.
  • 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. You could adapt this FAQ and post it on the website of your student union or activist group, including information about activities students can do locally. Organise leafleting sessions and lecture shout-outs to spread the word.
  • Organise a student petition to your Vice-Chancellor, demanding that they publicly come out against the attack on pensions, and that they lobby within the employers’ forum to stop the changes so that the industrial action can end.
  • Consider protests, stunts and direct actions in your university to draw attention and to place pressure on your Vice Chancellor.
  • If there are strikes, join the picket lines and help workers to shut down your university.
  • Emphasise mutual solidarity in the campaign: try to link the fight for pensions to the fight for free education. Both students and workers are under attack from the same people, and we stand a better chance of winning both battles as a joint force, supporting one another.

Model motion for student unions

“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 dodgy statistics, as well as the ridiculous assumption that every university in the country will close immediately and simultaneously; in fact the scheme is sustainable.
  3. To address this alleged black hole, university managers are demanding that pay-outs to staff once they retire should be massively decreased.
  4. Some staff will have up to 27% of their pension stolen if the changes go through.
  5. Staff have tried to negotiate through their union, the UCU, but their employers’ persistent refusal to listen has forced them to vote for an assessment boycott.

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. These changes to the way pensions work would open the door to privatisation and cuts in education funding later on.
  4. 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.
  5. Students and campus workers are strongest together. The UCU trade union has supported our campaigns against fees, we should back them on this.
  6. 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 as widely as possible about the reasons for the dispute and why it is in our interests to support staff.
  4. To endorse, support and pro-actively organise student petitioning, protest and direct action in support of our staff’s right to a decent pension.

I’m a postgraduate teaching assistant as well as a student, what can I do?

You should not only support the action, but if possible take part yourself! If you fill in for other workers who are boycotting marking, you are actively undermining the campaign. You will need to join the UCU if you aren’t already a member. Workers in certain types of more casualised employment situation may need specific advice about participating in the boycott – just ask your local trade union reps what to do. You can also find guidance about participating here.

Check here to see if your University is involved

  • Aberdeen, The University of
  • Aberystwyth University
  • Aston University
  • Bangor University
  • Bath, University of
  • Belfast, Queen’s University of
  • Birkbeck College, University of London
  • Birmingham, University of
  • Bradford, University of
  • Bristol, University of
  • Brunel University
  • Cambridge, University of
  • Cardiff, University of
  • City University
  • Courtauld Institute
  • Cranfield University
  • Dundee, The University of
  • Durham University
  • East Anglia, University of
  • Edinburgh, University of
  • Essex, University of
  • Exeter, University of
  • Glasgow, The University of
  • Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Hull, The University of
  • Imperial College London
  • Institute of Education, University of London
  • Keele University
  • Kent, The University of
  • King’s College London
  • Lancaster, University of
  • Leeds, The University of
  • Leicester, University of
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  • Liverpool, University of
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • London School of Economics
  • Loughborough University
  • Manchester, The University of
  • Newcastle University
  • Nottingham, The University of
  • Open University
  • Oxford, University of
  • Queen Mary, University of London
  • Reading, University of
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • Ruskin College
  • Salford, The University of
  • School of Pharmacy, University of London
  • Scottish Association of Marine Science
  • Senate House, University of London
  • Sheffield, The University of
  • SOAS, University of London
  • Southampton, University of
  • St Andrews, University of
  • St George’s, University of London
  • Stirling, The University of
  • Strathclyde, University of
  • Surrey, University of
  • Sussex, University of
  • Swansea University
  • Ulster, University of
  • University Campus Suffolk
  • University College London
  • University of Wales, Trinity St David
  • Warwick, University of
  • York, University of

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.

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)