University and College Union (UCU) members at 64 universities have completed a historic 14-day programme of strike action in defence of pensions. This is the first phase of our industrial action. If Universities UK (UUK) does not agree to a deal which protects our current defined benefit pension then there will be further strikes after Easter.
In the course of this strike, not only have the turnout thresholds for national industrial action set out in the Trade Union Act been well and truly beaten, but we have collectively taken more strike days than were taken either in 2015 or 2016 across all sectors!
UCU members have engaged in a fantastic struggle - not just against the employers but against our own leadership when they attempted to de-mobilise the strikes for just a few concessions. But the fight to save our pensions continues. See reports below and read more at socialistparty.org.uk
Hundreds of students and lecturers from universities across the country gathered at the University of Sussex on 15 March, for a national demonstration organised by local students, including Socialist Students. Billed as ‘Break UUK, win the strike!’ the crowd marched through campus to chants of “students and workers, unite and fight” and “UUK pay attention, staff deserve a decent pension”.
Over the past weeks of strike action, various students and staff have expressed their solidarity for their lecturers as they continue to fight against UUK’s proposed changes to the pension scheme, which could see lecturers losing up to 40% of their pensions. The crowd erupted with cheers as it passed Balfour Beatty’s construction site on campus, where roughly 19 students went into occupation to protest the pension cuts, as well as for Unite the Union access to the site to prevent blacklisting and to organise workers.
Other students joined the occupation as the crowd passed, bringing the number of students on the site to over a hundred! The construction of new, unaffordable halls while the existing ones lie in disrepair demonstrates how the ongoing process of marketisation has affected students as well as lecturers.
Students distributed leaflets describing their recently launched manifesto - ‘Democratise Sussex’ - assembled over the last few weeks at meetings of staff and students. The manifesto demands rent controls and democratic reform in the structure of universities as a step towards preventing the constant attacks on higher education.
We have been by our lecturers’ side on the picket line every morning showing student solidarity against the pension cuts. We have seen what unity in power means and how important it is to keep the momentum going. We reject in any way possible these decisions affecting our university!
It is a disgrace to see UUK attack and destroy the education system.
We are not here as enemies of education. We are here to defend it! It is our responsibility as students to have a say in what the university decides. We are not blind consumers of education.
Our demands are:
The vice-chancellor brings in an independent advisory board of experts to take a new look at the risk evaluation of the USS pension scheme. The academic integrity of the research does not hold up to any university standards, therefore the decision to slash pensions by 40% is invalid.
The university must become fully democratic where all university staff and students must have the ability to control the university’s decisions.
For the vice-chancellor to resign. The university has held a vote of no confidence, where the vast majority of staff have voted for the resignation of the vice-chancellor. We, the students, are now demanding his resignation as we do not see him fit in running our university’s future.
Students occupying at Reading University
Close to 100 strikers again picketed Glasgow University on 14 March. Student supporters are ‘hard picketing’ which involves blocking the main gate to any lecturers who are breaking the strike - a minority.
The Socialist (Scotland) spoke to Jeanette Findley, branch chair of the UCU: “The mood today is even more determined after we told the negotiators what we thought of the offer. I don’t personally want any changes to the pension scheme and if we are serious and fight hard enough we can force them back I think. 150 new members have joined here since the action.”
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