June 20, 2011 Leave a comment
John Brissenden is UCU branch secretary at Bournemouth University. @ucubu on Twitter
Just five years ago, the government agreed a series of reforms to the teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS), which covers university and college academic staff, as well as school teachers. The ‘reforms’ (a euphemism for cuts) saved £5 billion, and met government objectives of long term sustainability and affordability.
But since the massive bank bailouts of 2008, the calls for further cuts to our pensions have grown. On 6 January, The Economist, in a special feature titled “The public sector unions: the battle ahead” declared that “the real issue is pensions”. Coincidentally, the very next day the government confirmed it would be looking to take £2.8 billion out of public sector pensions, with up to one-third of that coming from TPS. So much for negotiations.
The impact of cuts to TPS will be hardest on younger members. Using the pensions calculator on the UCU website, we can see that a lecturer now aged 28 faces losing over £273,000 over the course of her retirement. A senior lecturer aged 34 will lose £250,000. And the numbers just get bigger as the hypothetical final salary increases.
UCU members, like all essential services workers, are very reluctant to take industrial action which hits services users as well as employers and the government. But after years of cuts in pay and increases in workload, this blatant theft of the deferred pay tied up in their pensions is the last straw. Our members are angrier than I’ve ever seen them.
Members at my university joined colleagues at 500 other institutions in a one-day strike on 24 March. The action, unusually for my union and our branch, was solid; we had plenty of volunteers for picket duty, and even the university admitted how quiet the campuses were on the day. On 30 June, despite the abuse being hurled at us from the media, the government and the Labour front bench, we expect the strike to be just as solid.
As on 24 March, we will see expressions of solidarity from the rest of the trade union movement. But the scale of this action means that the mobilisation will be much greater. The mass unity between UCU and the much bigger teachers’ unions will result in large protests around the country, and not just in the big cities.
As soon as the strike was confirmed last week, I was getting calls from EAN activists.
We expect to see the same magnificent solidarity between lecturers and students that we saw during the protests of November and December – when EAN brought 500 school, college and university students and UCU members onto the streets of this solidly Tory town.
But getting there will still be hard work. Mobilising members takes persuasion, understanding and argument – especially as media and government attacks on the strike intensify. Organising pickets, arranging protest marches and rallies, reaching out to other unions and activists drains resources from union branches that are already stretched. But , as someone once said, there is no alternative. It’s a fight that we didn’t choose. One that we must win.