Lecturers in the UCU union met for a higher education sector conference on Tuesday of this week.
Unfortunately delegates decided to suspend industrial action over attacks to their USS pension scheme in return for talks with the employers.
Lecturers in older universities are in the USS scheme while those in newer ones and further education colleges are in the TPS pension scheme.
Activists in the UCU have campaigned hard to build industrial action to force employers to renegotiate the rotten changes made to the USS scheme.
The fact that the employers are talking is a testament to the effectiveness our strikes.
USS members struck on 22 and 24 March and again on 30 November. We have also undertaken a work to contract.
Yet those in the union who argued to suspend our action were generally very pessimistic about the prospects for escalating our dispute.
USS negotiators proposed the motion to suspend industrial action for talks. Delegates backed it by 3 to 2.
Activists who had campaigned in support of continued and escalating action produced many materials analysing the TPS and USS disputes. As a result around 25 of the 100 or so delegates came to a meeting before the conference to plan how to keep the action going.
Many union branches took a position of opposition to the negotiators’ report and there were no branch motions in support of the negotiators’ position.
Despite the very unfortunate decision to suspend action, every amendment to the negotiators’ position was passed.
The amendments placed minimum conditions on the negotiators before the dispute could be settled. These include imposing a time limit on the suspension of action and sacking of the chair of the joint negotiating committee.
We need to hold the negotiators to these conditions and be prepared to call another higher education sector conference if they backslide.
Delegates also passed a motion urging a general continuation of campaigning and building links with other unions. Negotiators promised delegates that defence of final salary pensions was still on the negotiating table. They said they would give a report on negotiations at the union’s annual congress in June.
We were right to fight for unity with the TPS unions. We might have lost this battle but there is still all to play for – and the war is far from over.
Activists need to build a bigger network of activists in the old universities. We need to link disputes together and build solidarity with other workers in struggle.
We also need to campaign to get the vote out for the left candidate for general secretary, Mark Campbell, in the elections that begin next Monday.