As Workers went to press the University and College Union (UCU) was preparing for strike action across the country in defence of their pensions following a 72 per cent “yes” vote in its recent ballot. On Thursday 24 March lecturers in further and higher education will be on strike with picket lines outside colleges and universities across Britain.
Meanwhile, actions continue across all of Scotland’s universities and colleges, with hundreds of members of the UCU walking out on 18 March over pension changes. In what is becoming a rolling series of strikes, the walkout a week later – part of nationwide action – will have the focus on wages and cuts as well as deteriorating pension prospects.
The UCU estimated that over 135,000 students in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt universities had been affected by the 18 March action. Many students – who are engaged in ongoing campaigns over grants and cuts – supported the lecturers’ strikes.
From the picket line at Glasgow University, the UCU general secretary Sally Hunt pointed out that the actions had “highlighted the strength of feeling amongst staff when it comes to their pensions…. The employers have to drop their ridiculous approach of refusing to sit down with us and work towards a resolution.”
In a parallel action at Glasgow’s Caledonian University, joint action by all the unions on the campus has resulted in rallies to protest over plans to axe nearly 100 administrative jobs.
Lecturing staff are very clear that their pensions are deferred wages and the attack is designed to be a lifelong pay cut. They are also very clear that the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) is not in crisis and the proposals are driven by the government’s desire to attack the education sector as a whole.
As recently as 2006 the unions agreed reforms which made the pension scheme sustainable in the long-term. Recently David Willets, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, has spoken of his desire for one major institution in higher education in London to “fail” in order for the private sector to have the opportunity to take it over. However no private institution would be keen to “take over” staff in a pension scheme and therefore the attack on pensions is interwoven with the wider attack on public funded education.
UCU are running the first leg of a relay race in a fight which could build and build. These changes will not only affect UCU members; school teachers and heads will also be affected.
UCU members are being asked to pay more and work longer to receive less pension. The government wants staff in further and higher education to: