Protests by the University and College Union (UCU) around the University of Liverpool campus began on the 22nd February against Universities UK’s (UUK) proposed changes to lecturer’s pensions from a defined benefits to a defined contribution scheme. Among the picketers were lecturers who are part of the UCU, other university staff, students, and supporters including friends and family of the lecturers. According to the sign-in records kept by the UCU, over 200 people came to picket, and students have reported similar numbers turning out on the second day of striking.
Protesters arrived as early as 6am, with many staying until 5pm or later and most lecturers saying that they intend to come and picket for as many strike days as they possibly could. The largest congregation was outside the foundation building entrance, but picketers also gathered at car park entrances such as the Grove Street and Ashton Street. There were also some located at the Sydney Jones and Harold Cohen libraries as well as other building like the Central Teaching Hub and Rendall Building.
Protesters were handing out leaflets to those entering these university buildings and encouraging them not to cross the picket by doing so. This was done in a peaceful manner in accordance with laws around picketing which don’t allow for intimidation or violence towards those who want to cross the picket line. Spirits were high amongst the protesters, with many positive chants and banners such as ‘Me & UCU’ and ‘Damnit Janet’ (targeted at UUK president and UoL vice-chancellor, Janet Beer). Keeping them warm on the cold day were Guild Officers Rory Hughes and Sean Turner, bringing out tea and coffee to the foundation building, the Guild of Students officially supporting the UCU in its strike action.
However, 14 days’ pay is a difficult price to pay for many lecturers as well as non-UCU staff who want to support the strikes. As such, there were still many heading into the university, causing tension between the picketers and those who can’t, or are choosing not to, support the strike. For instance, in the early hours of the morning a few student protestors had to jump out of the way of the car of a disgruntled driver heading into the Grove Street Car Park. Later in the day, a tearful member of library staff headed into the Sydney Jones apologising to picketers, saying ‘it’s such a hard situation they’ve put us in’.
Sphinx writer Rachel Odufuwa spoke to some students and a lecturer at the picket to get their take on the situation:
Why are you personally supporting the strikes?
“Because this is the biggest attack on the university staff we have seen for many years. They’ve been coming for our pensions little bit by little bit in the last ten to five years, and now they are going to decimate the pension scheme. The reason it’s so important is because all the young academics who are behind us, are not going to know, when they retire at whatever age, how much they are going to get.”
“I want good young people to come into academia to teach the students of the future, and to know that there is a job which will look after them, look after their well-being, and will bring a decent time to the end of it, because this is a hard job, the job that we do. We do it because we love it but people just won’t be coming into this profession … people will go and work elsewhere because why would they choose to work under these circumstances, working 60 hours a week and they don’t have the pensions at the end of it?”
“It’s just really unfair that Janet is doing this while she is getting rise, it’s just really unfair”
“I’m here because anyone that has been treated badly by their employers deserves support, the last decent pension that is being protected, it’s ridiculous”
What would you say to students who are upset about the strike?
“In my experience students have been supportive of us and have given us a lot of solidarity, I think they understand the troubles and if any of them aspire to be academics and develop a career within the university, then it’s going to be their pensions as well that are going to be taken away. The university superannuation scheme is one of the kind of last remaining defined contribution schemes where we seem to have a race to the bottom, more pensions are being decimated so people just have to stand up and say that we need to get back to the defined benefits scheme for all the people who have lost them, and we have to do that together with all the workers, younger people, students, all of us have to work together because for me it’s not just about USS but it’s about pensions as a whole and where we want to take this society. Do we want to be a society that looks after its people in older age or do we want to be people who get by on whatever the stock market at time is?”
“Everyone needs support in their workplace in the future, a lot of them probably will be lecturers in the future, and it’s likely to drag out further”.
“I know that lots of people are annoyed because a lot of lecturers weren’t involved when students were striking but the thing is that we’ve got to make the first move, we’ve got to provide unity because only then are we going to change as well as the lecturers, we can only achieve benefits for the students and the lecturers together; if we support them they’ll support us”.
The strikes are scheduled to continue for 12 more days, on 26, 27, 28 February and 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 March.
Featured image courtesy of Rory Hughes.