UCU union members are voting on an offer in a dispute over their pensions – and many are organising to win a No vote.
Workers across over 60 universities have struck for 14 days against UUK bosses’ plan to turn their pension from a defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution one. That action saw thousands of new workers join the union and it got the bosses on the run.
Now they have “offered” to withdraw the attacks for the time being, and instead have an “expert panel” to decide the future of the scheme.
It’s a sign of the pressure they are under. But it gives workers no guarantees about their scheme, and leaves open the idea that workers could pay more and get less in retirement.
And it gives bosses more time to regroup and undermine the momentum of the action.
Many workers fear they are playing for time and will try to push through attacks when they feel they are in a stronger position.
Bruce Baker is president of the UCU at Newcastle university. He told Socialist Worker, “There’s a lot that people like in the deal, but we also have real concerns. If you give UUK the benefit of the doubt, it looks quite good.
“But none of us are prepared to do that. We have zero trust in UUK and we are strongly recommending a No vote.”
UCU members at Newcastle university held two meetings following the offer. Both supported a “revise and resubmit” position and opposed the offer going to ballot as it is. Bruce said emails from members who couldn’t make the meetings also overwhelmingly backed this position.
Union members at Heriot-Watt university are also pushing a No vote. The UCU committee there sent an email to branch members on Wednesday setting out why workers should reject the deal.
UCU members at Kent and Salford met the same day and both unanimously passed a motion recommending a No vote. And around 100 activists from several universities met at Soas in London to organise the No campaign.
Many other branches, including Sheffield, opposed the ballot and are backing a “revise and resubmit” position.
The UCU Left group, which Socialist Worker supports, is fighting for a No vote. UCU Left members on the union’s higher education committee have put out a statement opposing the deal.
“It is not even definite that it will give us more than the 12 March offer members resoundingly rejected,” it said. “This is not what we stood on picket lines for. It’s not what thousands of members joined the union for.
“We are in an excellent position to continue to pressure employers and to get what we want.”
The union’s elected negotiators weren’t involved in the latest deal. Negotiator Carlo Morelli is campaigning for a No vote, and explained why the ballot is so important.
“This dispute has galvanised people like never before,” he told Socialist Worker. “We now need a settlement that secures pensions for all members. The UUK offer fails to provide that settlement and instead sets us on the pathway for a further dispute.”
An email from UCU general secretary Sally Hunt that was sent with the ballot shows her support of the deal. Carlo warned that there is likely to be a lot of “uncertainty in many branches” because the union is “pushing what most accept is unsatisfactory”.
Union leaders are fighting hard to end the dispute and get a Yes vote in the e-ballot.
This will have an impact on many people, particularly those who are less involved in their local union branches.
The ballot ends on Friday 13 April. It’s vital that activists organise union meetings and speak to as many workers as possible about the ballot and why they should vote No.
Future strikes to defend the scheme could be even bigger as Unison union members are set to ballot for strikes over the issue – and the union is recommending a Yes vote.
A win on pensions in universities would show workers facing attacks everywhere else that it’s possible to resist. And the strength of the action means there is a chance that the No vote could win.
“In the past, if the union leadership has supported something it’s likely to have been accepted,” said Bruce. “But there are a lot of differences between this dispute and previous ones.
“We have lots of new members – our branch is up by around 50 percent. They joined because of this dispute and they’ve struck for 14 days. Many are young and so will be most affected by the pension changes.
“So the motivation to vote No is stronger. There’s a much stronger possibility that we will decide to carry on while we’re in a position of strength.”
Carlo added, “We need a deal that is clear and unambiguous. We need a deal that doesn’t cost more or give us less.”
Socialist Worker says UCU members should vote No and fight for “no detriment”—a guarantee that the pension in the future will be at least as good as the one now.
That will mean escalating strikes across Britain.