Across Britain there is anger and disbelief at a proposed pensions deal between the UCU union and bosses to end the university workers’ strikes.
Workers at 65 universities are today striking for their eleventh day against a devastating attack on their pensions that could lose them £10,000 a year in retirement.
The strikes have been a great success. They have divided university vice-chancellors and united workers.
UCU delegates begin a meeting at 11am today to discuss the proposed deal which has emerged after talks between Universities UK and UCU union leaders.
It is a long way from what the bosses originally wanted. But it would mean workers pay higher contributions, and a worse accrual rate would mean they get less in retirement.
It also states that the UCU will “encourage” members to “prioritise the rescheduling of teaching” that was cancelled during strikes.
And after three years there are strong indications there will be a new (and worse) scheme.
Any attack on the present scheme accepts the bosses’ lie that there’s a deficit that needs to be dealt with by workers paying more.
There was bitterness on the picket lines this morning in central London. Judith is joint equalities rep at the Institute of Education.
“I’ve never been so angry,” she told Socialist Worker. “The deal accepts the alleged deficit. But we’ve shown the deficit is constructed.
“And the idea that we have to reschedule lectures goes against fundamental principles of industrial action.
“The feeling at branch level is pretty incredulous.”
Tony is branch sec at University College London (UCL). “The email correspondence I had overnight was ten to one against,” he said.
One woman at UCL said the deal “feels like we’re being told off”.
Striker Louise added, “They’re just rubbing away at the scheme. I was hoping we could smash the whole attack.”
First-time striker Harvey agreed. “It’s really frustrating,” he told Socialist Worker. “I’ve been out here for the best part of three weeks.
“When I first saw the deal I felt pretty betrayed by UCU.”
Judith said the anger is widespread. “It’s not at all like it is sometimes where there’s the hard left opposing something and no one else,” she said.
“This is new members who are angry.”
Some members of the union’s higher education committee said members had contacted them from different universities urging them to oppose the deal.
Judith said the deal was “the kind you might reach if you were losing”. Yet the strikes have gone from strength to strength.
Rodolfo, picketing at UCL, said, “There’s no acknowledgement that the deficit is bunk. It starts from a false premise. And it doesn’t acknowledge the strength of support for the strike.
“It’s unprecedented. We’ve had pickets on most entrances of UCL for the first time. It’s definitely possible to get something better, our strikes are working so far.”
Tony said there was “no kickback” after the union sanctioned a further 14 days of strikes to take place after Easter.
And Harvey said, “More people have been out on strike here over the last few weeks than the sum total of all previous UCU strikes.”
He added, “The deal is just kicking the can further down the road. They will come back in three years with something else.”
Striker Ioanna agreed. “Why are we not settling the rules when the employers are in disarray?” She asked. “We’ve picketed in the snow and the rain for ten days. We want a clear victory.”
Lobby says no capitulation
There was deep anger outside the UCU headquarters this morning as hundreds lobbied to oppose the deal.
Protesters chanted, “The strikes will go on,” and, “They say deficit - we say bullshit.”
Mike from Exeter told the crowd, “120 people emailed me last night saying we should reject the deal.
“I saw this deal and was confused. I thought we were winning.
“We have made the union a union with this strike. Graduate teaching assistants and hourly paid staff have made huge sacrifices.
“This deal throws them under a bus. But if we stand together we can beat this thing.”
Des from Ruskin College said workers would be on the picket lines tomorrow regardless of today’s decision.
Students who have occupied sent a joint message of support backing strikers and opposing the deal.
Carlo Morelli is a member of the UCU’s national executive committee and has been part of the negotiations. He told the lobby, “We want a defined benefit scheme, but the quality of what is on offer is rubbish. I will vote against these proposals today.”