By Sarah Bates
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Get behind the Dundee university workers’ strikes

Low-paid Unison union members at the university in Scotland are fighting to defend their pensions
Issue 2802
A picture of 5 workers standing on a picket line in the Dundee university strike

Standing firm on the picket line in the Dundee university strike (Picture: Arthur Nicoll)

Hundreds of low paid workers in Dundee are striking back against fat cat bosses who are viciously attacking their pensions. Some 300 workers at Dundee University rounded off a week-long strike on Friday. And from Monday different sections of workers are set to strike over the next three weeks in a rolling programme of action. 

The Unison union members are fighting to stop the closure of their pension, and being forced to take up a new scheme that would slash their money by thousands. They’ve been fighting since March 2021, and workers already struck for a week in November of that year.

Unison rep and strike Emma Preston told Socialist Worker that university management “thought we’d roll over”. “People are very angry and they’re doing this so they can hold our heads up high,” she said. 

Workers received notice 13 months ago that their current pension deal was set to close—and bosses only set out a five week consultation. But since then Unison members have been organising to beat them back. It’s a vicious attack. And it only affects workers who are the lowest paid, on grades one to six. Workers on a higher wage, grades seven and higher, are already on a better deal. 

The university’s principal has a salary of £250,000 a year, and his management team are raking in wages of £130-180,000. Yet strikers, some on the minimum wage, are being told by management they should accept a worse deal because they can rely on state pensions in retirement. 

As well as their pension being worth less, the university wants to force workers to work until they are 68 years old. And bosses will be closing the scheme to new members. It’s an attack that will hit the lowest paid on campus, such as cleaners, security guards, post workers and secretaries. Many have worked at the university for decades.

The new deal means if a worker is expecting to receive an annual pension of £11,000, this could now be slashed to as little as £7,000. “It’s about fighting for a dignified retirement. People are genuinely worried about their retirement,” said Emma. And she explained that the fight was about more than just their pensions.

 “People are now at the point where they just don’t believe they’ll be ok. The government policies are affecting the poorest. If you look at the cost of living crisis—people can’t afford to live.”

Workers have rallied outside the university every morning of the strike, and it’s seen the union branch and picket lines grow as a result of the dispute. Emma, who works as a cultural project officer, said workers should look to the example of the Glasgow equal pay dispute, where council bosses rolled out a sexist pay structure. “The main people affected by these changes are women,” she said. “We’re known for having strong women in Dundee and there’s so many women on picket lines.”

Bosses in the education sector will be looking closely at Dundee—and a victory for them could see attacks on their workers’ pensions in future. That’s why every trade unionist, socialist and campaigner should support the Dundee workers’ fight. 

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