Lecturers in the UCU union voted overwhelmingly to continue the fight to defend their pensions at their annual conference in Manchester last weekend.
Delegates defied union officials in a series of votes.
Alan Whitaker, a former president of the union and member of its national executive committee, spoke to Socialist Worker after the votes.
“The pessimists were trounced and there was quite an optimistic mood in the hall,” he said. “This has been a good day for the left.”
Lecturers in older universities are in the USS pension scheme while those in newer universities and colleges are in the TPS scheme. The government is attacking both.
Workers in the USS scheme passed an amendment instructing the higher education committee to “campaign over the summer for a programme of sustained industrial action in the autumn”.
It also called on the higher education committee to reinstate work to rule industrial action “with immediate effect”.
Many delegates were angry at UCU general secretary Sally Hunt for failing to lead the fight for their pensions.
Workers in the USS scheme have not struck over pensions since 30 November last year.
Amy from London’s Institute of Education told Socialist Worker, “Debates were polarised between people who wanted to keep negotiating and those who wanted to resume action.
“People in my union branch voted strongly for action on pensions.
“We feel that there hasn’t been enough progress in the negotiations. Today was important because it located our dispute within a wider defence of public services.”
Lecturers in the TPS scheme struck in London on 28 March and across Britain on 10 May.
Sally Hunt argued that the 10 May action was a mistake. She issued a report on the dispute warning against further strikes.
Delegates passed a motion calling on their national executive committee to “to develop and propose to other unions a coordinated programme of escalating strike action in defence of public sector pensions from autumn 2012”.
An amendment calling for UCU to join any public sector industrial action in June was lost.
But delegates said a significant minority of at least a third of conference supported the call for action in June.
A late motion was also passed calling on the national executive committee to work with other unions to organise escalating strikes and a national demonstration.
Mark Campbell, a member of the national executive committee said, “Lecturers have resoundingly decided to up the ante and continue the fight on pensions.
“We want to win the dispute.”
There was a buoyant mood at a 170-strong UCU Left meeting after the votes on Friday evening.
Left wing Labour MP John McDonnell congratulated workers on their decision to keep fighting the Tory attacks.
He told workers, “The decision you’ve taken today is absolutely critical.”