Socialist Worker

Lecturers have days left to vote on pension strikes

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2586

UCU members striking over pay and inequality in Leeds in 2016

UCU members striking over pay and inequality in Leeds in 2016 (Pic: Neil Terry)

UCU union members are engaged in a crucial ballot for strikes over pensions. Bosses want to turn their defined benefit USS pension scheme into a defined contribution one.

This would slash its value by half or more. The attack has led to deep anger among workers. Union members backed strikes by nearly 87 percent in a consultation last year on a turnout of over 55 percent.

The strike ballot, which involves workers in older universities, ends on Friday of next week.

Carlo Morelli is a lecturer at Dundee university and is a member of the UCU’s national executive committee.

He told Socialist Worker that the ballot is pulling new people into activity.

“Some branches have created a whole series of new reps in different departments,” he explained.

“It’s looking good. I think we’ll end up with a dispute. The employers are taking a hard line on the pension scheme and there’s no indication they are shifting.

“It is imperative that activists mobilise the vote to ensure members return their ballot papers before the deadline of 19 January.”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt previously told members that the attack on pensions was the worst in 20 years. “There is no point pretending that anything other than sustained strike action will make the employers listen,” she added.

The Tories’ anti-union laws mean that workers need to achieve a 50 percent turnout in order to take legal strikes.

Carlo said there’s a good chance that many branches will achieve that.

But he added, “The argument has to be—sod the law we’re taking action. There could be branches that get a 48 percent or 49 percent turnout. Are we really saying they can’t strike?

“The Scottish government has said they will not enforce the Tories’ anti-union laws. So in Scotland we should certainly argue that we don’t need to abide by the laws.”

Talks to resolve the dispute were extended until 23 January. But if workers vote for strikes, the union should name dates to pile the pressure onto bosses.

“If the action goes ahead, we’re talking about three days of strikes every week throughout February and possibly more,” said Carlo. “Employers could lock people out in response, creating an all-out strike across older universities.

“This could lead to a really significant dispute in higher education. The stakes are high.”

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will speak at a UCU London region rally on Wednesday 17 January, 7pm, Cruciform Building (LT1), UCL, Gower St, WC1E 6BT.
Read the new USS pamphlet at

UCU left to fight elections

Socialists and campaigners in the UCU Left are preparing to stand for a number of positions in UCU union elections. They include Nita Sanghera from Bournville College, who is standing for vice president.

Nita said electing her will lead to the UCU’s first black president.

“We need powerful local and national political campaigning and industrial action to win on pensions and pay, to defend jobs, conditions and education,” she said.

Other UCU Left candidates for positions include Ioanna Ioannou, Rachel Cohen, Sean Wallis, Julie Hearn, Jo McNeill and Mark Abel.

Voting begins on 1 February and lasts for a month

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