By Sophie Squire
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Thousands of workers at 68 universities will return to the picket lines

University staff remain determined to win their pay and pensions dispute
Issue 2796
UCU strike

University workers strike for pay and pensions in central London. (Julian Stallabrass)

Thousands of university workers will head to the picket lines again next week in a fight over pensions, pay, conditions and equalities

It’s an important battle. UCU union activists are determined to make the strikes as effective as possible, despite the real weaknesses of the union leaders’ strategy. From Monday until Friday next week, UCU members at 39 institutions will strike. And then from 28 March until 1 April, workers in a different set of 29 institutions will walk out. 

Ballots were also set to begin this week at 149 universities for a further set of strikes. Members at 65 universities will vote over whether to take action over cuts to the USS pension scheme, and 143 will be balloted over the “four fights”. Strikes have only become more pressing, as from 1 April employer body UUK says it will implement the cuts to workers’ USS pensions. These will slash payments by as much as 35 percent. 

Given the scale of the assault, separating the strikes into two blocks with different universities involved will only weaken their effectiveness. Individual branches were also not consulted over when would be the best days for them to strike, which in some cases may mean strikes fall on reading weeks.  

And, despite a vote on the union’s Higher Education Committee for a five-week balloting period, the union has decided it should be for three weeks. That could sabotage the number of universities that reach the turnout threshold under the Tory anti-union laws. Instead of reducing the strikes, the union leaders should be escalating the action. 

It is always harder to win momentum and enthusiasm for a strike campaign if there is no clear strategy to win.

UCU Left, which Socialist Worker supports, explained why it is vital that strikes escalate. It says, “Hitting our institutions for a week at a time can put pressure on our employers to shift from their intransigent position. 

“And it is through strong, vibrant action that we will create the climate to give us the best chance of extending our mandates in re-ballots for strikes and marking boycotts in the summer term.” 

Workers must push to make the ten days of strikes as big and as effective as possible. It is also essential that rank and file activists push for more democracy within their union and force those at the top to listen when they say escalation is the only way to win.

Full list of what universities are on strike and on which days

Fight brewing at Staffordshire University

Workers at Staffordshire University are set to strike on Monday 28 March unless management drop plans to employ new staff via a wholly-owned subsidiary company. UCU union members voted 70 percent for strikes.

Under the plan, new staff employed by the subsidiary will not be able to access the defined benefit Teachers’ Pension Scheme and instead will have to accept the inferior defined contribution Staffordshire University Pension Scheme.

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