‘Our Pensions, Your Education’: University Staff and Students in Glasgow Mobilise for the UCU Strike

Today on Wednesday 14th of March, students and staff mobilised for the 12th day of action in support of the UK-wide University and College Union (UCU) pensions dispute with Universities UK. 61 Universities are participating in the strike and student movements around the country are on the rise, directly challenging the marketisation of higher education.

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Like every other strike day so far, the picket line was strong with between 100 and 150 people in attendance outside the Main Gate of the University of Glasgow. A vibrant student solidarity movement (organised by Glasgow Uni Strike Solidarity) initiated a hard picket, blocking the entrance to cars and passers-by in a practical show of solidarity to the staff.

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The day’s picketing action was concluded with a roving picket around the university’s campus, with chants such as ‘our pensions, your education’ and others calling on strike-breakers to come out and join the strike.

Glasgow Uni Strike Solidarity has also organised weekly workshops and teach-outs in the Queen Margaret Union in an expression of solidarity and a manifestation of the value of autonomous and liberated education.

Interregnum was also present in the picket lines and rally held by UCU in Strathclyde University yesterday (13th of March), where around 100 staff and students vocally demonstrated their opposition to the proposed deal and their commitment to continue the strike.

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Photo courtesy of: Strathclyde UCU

At the same time, students in other universities all over the UK have are organising, with new occupations springing up daily. The universities of Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Queen Mary, Exeter, Bath, Cambridge, SLADE School of Art, and Reading are under occupation. While we were writing this article, King’s College London also began an occupation. The student movement, defeated and dispirited after the unsuccessful wave of demonstrations and occupations against tuition fee increases in 2010-11, is beginning to radicalise again and is forcefully making demands through direct action.

The strikes were voted for by an overwhelming majority of UCU membership in response to Universities UK proposed changes to the USS pension scheme which would leave the average lecturer worse off by £10,000 a year. After repeated refusals by UUK to negotiate with UCU, the commencement of strike action was inevitable. The proposed changes most significantly impact younger staff and those in vulnerable or oppressed groups who have not had time or sufficient opportunities to stabilise their careers. The UCU said that “defending pay and pensions was especially important for black members who are often lower paid and on more casualised contracts.”

According to their site,

“The new proposal would mean:

  • Universities accept a small amount of increased risk through a return to the risk level USS proposed in September 2017 – something the majority of institutions were happy with
  • The limit on salary counting for defined benefits remaining unchanged at £55,550
  • Annual accrual rate reduced from 1/75th to 1/80th
  • Contributions would increase by just 4.1% (split 65/35 between employers and employees) rather than the 8.3% estimated cost of UCU’s previous proposal – an increase in contributions of 2.7% for employers and 1.4% for USS members”

Of course, the above quote comes directly from the UCU leadership, which has been accused by members of selling out. The reality is that the proposed ‘compromise’ still significantly diminishes existing labour conditions and directly contributes to increasing the insecurity experienced by staff.  In this video, members can be seen confronting Sally Hunt after she announced the proposed deal.

The strength of today’s and yesterday’s actions assumes an added importance after yesterday’s rejection of the proposed UCU-UUK deal by the rank-and-file UCU membership. The proposal, tabled to members late on Monday, was met with successive rejections during the course of Tuesday; branches immediately held general membership meetings where, in most cases, the overwhelming majority decided to reject the deal.  Instead of falling into hopelessness and passivity, they have refused to accept their leadership’s compromising stance and have sent out a clear message of resistance.

The UCU strike is of direct interest to everyone in the UK and beyond. When public education is increasingly under attack and inaccessible for the majority of the population, the staff’s opposition to a crucial component of its marketisation deserves society’s full solidarity. Education is one of the most important forces for social change and critical thinking, and access needs to be given to all, not be considered a privilege or a luxury. This strike, vocally opposed to the marketisation of higher education, is a crucial link in the wider struggle for an autonomous and free education system. Even the few students and staff who are not supportive of the strike will be impacted if the strike’s aims fail: along with the rest of us, they will be subject to worsening labour conditions and a more insecure working environment.

The importance of this struggle therefore extends far beyond the university and this specific strike; this is class struggle. While the university staff may in some instances be more privileged than other groups of workers, their interests are intimately connected: when one sector wins, we all win. When it looses, the ruling class, in their unquenchable thirst for profits, will come for the rest of us. As the Industrial Workers of the World slogan goes, ‘an injury to one is the injury to us all’.

A further wave of 14-day strikes is set to commence during exam and assessment period if the dispute is not resolved.

SOLIDARITY WITH THE STRIKERS! 

SUPPORT THE STRIKE!

 

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