In a recent ballot, University and College Union (UCU) members, who make up about a third of lecturers and support staff on campus, overwhelmingly backed supporting strike action with 88% of voters in favour. As such, there is set to be 14 days of strike action to take place in February and March. With the University of Liverpool being one of the 61 universities affected it is vital that the reasoning for the strike – and why you should support it – is understood.
The strike action comes after negotiations over changes to the pensions of staff between the UCU and UUK (the collection of university vice-chancellors) have stalled. Currently UCU members, have a ‘defined benefits’ pension scheme, which means that they know the exact amount of money they will get year on year, which allows them to plan for their retirements. However, the current proposals from UUK would see the pensions scheme moved to a different system, where the pensions of staff will be gambled upon the fortunes of financial markets.
Such a change is likely to cause a loss of £200,000 of each staff members pensions on average, which is a horrific amount of money to lose when you have no other income. To risk the money of staff members on the stock market is, after all, how the pension fund crisis was brought about following the stock market crashes of 2008. To add to this, the UCU has repeatedly offered counter-proposals, worked out by pension experts, which solve the deficit in the pension fund without requiring the money to be staked on the stock market, however UUK has shown no intent to negotiate, refusing to move its position an inch.
Of course, the strike will affect students adversely, with lectures and seminars likely to be cancelled if the relevant staff members are in the UCU. However, it is massively important that we support it, with many vice-chancellors hoping that the strike will drive a wedge between students and workers and force us on to their side. These are the vice-chancellors who support rising tuition fees, which see students graduate with £50,000 of debt, while rewarding themselves with an average salary of £281,000.
It is likely that UUK will attempt to delegitimise the strike by attempting to present the striking workers as at fault. One argument you may hear is the suggestion that they will have to put fees up if they agree to maintain pensions at their current level. This is a work of fiction. The proposals put forward by the UCU would see the universities only pay 2% more than now. When universities are frequently investing in unnecessary pet projects, it is ludicrous to suggest that they would not be able to cover such an outlay. In any case, fees are almost certain to be raised regardless.
It is important to remember the amount of work and effort that staff put into helping students to progress through university is massive, going in to providing lectures, seminars and even one-on-one sessions, alongside often supporting our campaigns for free education and more. As the management attacks our staff, it also attacks us. With the movement towards eroding working conditions and pensions comes the unsurprising demoralising effect it will have on staff, that will then have a direct effect on the standard of teaching at universities, particularly as it may even see many staff choose to leave.
Both the NUS and the Guild of Students have issued statements in favour of the strike, noting how it is crucial that we stand by the side of the UCU in their struggle against the unfair and unreasonable cuts to pensions. With our numbers, students can be the turning point in forcing the vice-chancellors to improve their offer, if we stand by and watch we risk weakening the strike, however if we join it we can make it more powerful. At the least, it is important that you don’t cross the pickets by entering university buildings during the strike, but with large numbers of students out supporting the pickets we can make a stand against the woeful management of the university.
You have a simple choice: either you can side with the management of the institution which has raised tuition fees, cut real wages and charged exorbitant rents, all while paying ridiculously high wages to themselves; or you can stand with the workers who provide all the support we need to go through university, whilst simultaneously having their working conditions and pensions attacked. Remember: united we stand, divided we fall.
Liverpool Labour Students have provided some advice for those who want to support the strikes:
- Don’t go to lectures on strike days: This is the most important way in which you can support our striking lecturers. It is absolutely imperative that you don’t go to lectures on strike days, even if your lecturer is not striking. Strikes work best when they have the biggest impact. By going into lectures or seminars during the strike period, you will be crossing the picket line and undermining the strike.
- Send an email to Janet Beer: Janet Beer is the Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool University and a key figure in the dispute over pensions. Labour Students have drafted a template email that you can send to the Vice-Chancellor. Simply download this letter template, add your name to the bottom and send it to the Vice-Chancellor’s office at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
uk. Please encourage your friends to do the same – the more emails Janet Beer receives, the larger the impact.
- Attend Free Education and Labour Meetings: Over the next few weeks, a number of meetings will be held by Labour Students and Free Education where we will discuss how we can support our striking lecturers.
- Talk to your lecture groups / seminars: It’s important that as many students as possible know about the strike and why we should support our lecturers. Why not ask your lecturer for two minutes to do a lecture shout out or speak to your seminar group? We’ve produced this brief guide to help you understand the key issues if you want to speak to your cohort.
- Join Lecturers on the Picket Lines: We will be joining lecturers on the picket lines during strike days and we hope that you can do. It would be brilliant if, on every strike day, students are standing side-by-side with their lecturers. We’ll be putting up Facebook events soon.
Featured image by Lucy Wyne