UCU union members have voted by 64 percent to accept a deal in a long running dispute over pensions. It follows 14 days of strikes at over 60 universities against a plan to turn workers’ defined benefit scheme into a defined contribution one.
The deal removes the immediate threat of the change and sets up an “expert panel” to look at the scheme. But it gives no guarantee that workers won’t end up paying more or getting less in retirement.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt strongly urged workers to accept the deal.
Lesley McGorrigan is campaigns secretary of the UCU at Leeds university and a member of the UCU's national executive committee (NEC). She told Socialist Worker, “The vote isn’t surprising given the stress that the general secretary put in her emails pushing to get a Yes vote.
“The higher education committee didn’t put a recommendation of how to vote. But Sally Hunt repeatedly pressed for a Yes vote. In that context, to get 36 percent voting no is impressive.”
She added, “It’s difficult for members to vote with confidence for more action when they know their general secretary is organising against it.”
The size of the No vote shows the huge level of anger that exists—and the desire to keep fighting to protect the scheme. Among activists there was a strong rejection of the deal.
Carlo Morelli is on the UCU’s NEC and a union activist at Dundee university. He told Socialist Worker, “All branches I know about either voted to reject or not to put a recommendation.
“As far as I know, no branch decided to recommend a yes vote.”
Hunt claimed the choice was between that or fighting for a “no detriment” position—that the scheme should get no worse than it is no. And she painted the “no detriment” position as unrealistic.
Hunt sent out a number of emails to union members throughout the ballot urging a Yes vote. Many are angry at her misrepresentation of the dispute and what they see as an undemocratic attempt to swing the vote.
Geoff Abbott is a UCU rep at Newcastle University. He told Socialist Worker, “Sally Hunt gave the impression that it would take months of further strikes after June to win anything significant.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. The bosses are in disarray and the momentum is with our side.”
He added that future strikes could be bigger as Unison union members in universities are also balloting for strikes over pensions. The union is recommending a Yes vote.
“Our clerical staff are certainly straining at the leash as they sense the power of our strike,” said Geoff.
A group of activists has launched a campaign for more democracy in the union. UCU United for Democracy said, “We need democratic structures and a democratic culture that properly reflects our transformed union.”
The bosses will undoubtedly come back on the offensive over pensions. But workers have built stronger rank and file organisation as a result of the strikes—and are in a better position to resist in the future.
“We’ve got a whole new membership that is ready to fight in the next steps,” said Lesley. “We’re still massively strong. A load of brilliant things have come out of this that will stay with us forever.”
Sign the statement for more democracy in the UCU at https://ucuunitedfordemocracy.wordpress.com/unity-statement/