Lecturers and other staff at the university will be on strike over pensions on the following dates (unless the university employers come back to meaningful negotiations):
- Thursday 22nd – Friday 23rd February;
- Monday 26th – Wednesday 28th February;
- Monday 5th – Thursday 8th March;
- Monday 12th – Friday 16th March.
This is longest strike in the history of Higher Education. 61 Universities across the UK will see strike action. Staff are not paid on strike days.
Here’s a short video to explain why we’re striking:
What to expect
- All activities during the strike action are potentially at risk;
- Teaching will be cancelled on strike days;
- Other activities such as emailing and marking will also be delayed.
- We love teaching, so on strike days we’ll be running a ‘Teach Out’ just outside campus including a great variety of free lectures and discussions. The programme is still being planned – look out for details later.
What’s the strike about?
USS is a pension fund set up to provide a decent retirement for staff. See below for how pensions work and the wider context. The university employers now want to end guaranteed pension benefits so our final pensions would depend on how the stock market performs. That means huge uncertainty and a reduced retirement income for all. A typical lecturer would lose £10,000 a year in retirement.
UCU has repeatedly tried to negotiate with employers, to no avail. So now we feel we have no choice but to take strike action. This was the decision of 88% of UCU members who voted in a legal ballot.
We are striking as a last resort – we don’t want to strike. We all want to teach our students and make sure you all get the education that you deserve. But without the security of a decent pension, staff will simply leave. This attack on USS will make the scheme far less attractive than those available in the ‘new’ universities or in schools and colleges. So this is also a strike to defend your education, and that of future students.
What can you do to help?
- Write to the Vice Chancellor of the University (email@example.com and copy to firstname.lastname@example.org) to tell him that you support your teaching and support staff. Ask him to follow the example of other VCs across the country who have contested the grounds of this pension ‘reform’ and asked for a return to negotiations. You could use this letter template, ideally amended with your own words and concerns. Other students have suggested asking for a fee refund for missed teaching.
- Do not cross a picket line – during a strike workers temporarily stop work, to exert pressure on their employers to address their demands. The picket line on the entrances to campus is a symbolic act, please show your support by not crossing it. Students shouldn’t actually picket but are very welcome to come and support us, chat, ask questions etc.
- Write to your lecturers to tell them that they have your backing.
- Post your support on Facebook, Twitter etc – you could share the UCU video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njFZCArmDLw#) and also this brilliant video from University of Warwick staff and students (https://www.facebook.com/studentstaffsolidarity/videos/2141481339421587/)
- Join the Facebook group ‘Leeds Students Support UCU‘ and get involved.
- Join the march and rally on 22nd February
- Come to some of the ‘Striking Insights’ teach-out sessions (free educational opportunities provided by striking staff, just off campus, see details).
- Discuss the strike with other students and encourage them to to support the strike.
- Lobby Leeds University Union to support UCU in this dispute. The National Union of Students has issued a joint statement with UCU on the USS strike action.
- Ask your parents to help put pressure on the employers.
Many thanks for your support, it’s important to us. With enough pressure from staff and students, the employers will come back to negotiate and we can carry on teaching and learning.
Read on for more background…
- It’s impossible to predict whether I’ll die the day I retire or forty years later. So I don’t know whether I have to make my savings last for a day or for decades.
- But if you take a group of 10,000 people, you can predict pretty well how many will live to 68, how many to 88, and how many to 108.
- A big fund also allows you to smooth out ups and downs in stock market performance.
- So we all agree to put an equal share of our pay into a shared fund, every month, to ensure a stable income for ourselves in retirement.
- Our employers also contribute money for each employee, to attract staff (this is effectively deferred wages).
- Up till now, staff have known what pension they will get when they retire, based on their contributions/salary. If the new proposal goes through, there will be no certainty except that everyone will get a much lower pension.
- Staff have resisted increases in tuition fees, individually and collectively as a union, alongside students. Fees have increased, but staff pay has gone down in real terms.
- Universities rely on recruiting excellent staff with good morale to deliver high quality education – staff conditions and students’ experience are intimately linked.
- Management of universities increasingly focus on profit rather than quality of education.
- Salaries for those at the very top (management) have grown disproportionately to other staff and many Vice Chancellors won’t be affected by these changes because they get substantial amounts of cash instead of paying into a USS pension.
- There is a £1.1 billion surplus in the Higher Education sector
- Employers have £10 billion in reserves (from student fees) – they can afford pension contributions to retain high quality staff.
The arguments about USS
The university employers say they have to cut pensions because the USS pension fund is short of money. UCU does not agree. If you’re interested in the details, read this article: http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/uss-pensions-is-there-really-a-big-hole-in-the-finances/