|The USS enewsletter is brought to you by the Leeds UCU Communications team. If you have any concerns about USS issues raised in it, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org|
|The first 14 days of strikes saw snow, sub-zero temperatures, heavy rain and wind. None of this deterred the amazing UCU strikers, and pickets were out in force every morning. We had a pink gazebo, handwarmers, and wonderful witty placards. Our lovely students supported us every single day. There were two huge and energetic marches down to the city centre, and lunchtime rallies saw inspiring speeches, visits from MPs, and a LOT of singing – see what you think of ‘Strike up your life‘ and ‘Strike you up‘.|
|The student support at Leeds has been great – despite being concerned about the effect on their studies, they understand how important this issue is. “Leeds Students Support UCU” have marched with us, brought us biscuits, spoken at rallies and organised meetings with the VC. Around the country the same is true – and there have been at least a dozen student occupations.|
|Double-docking our pay|
|UCU members will lose pay for the 14 days of strikes (and any future strike action). But our university management also intend to deduct 25% of staff pay, ongoing, for staff who do not recover teaching which would have happened on strike days. Thus deducting pay for the same thing twice. Most universities who were threatening this have now agreed not to double-dock. Leeds is one or a very few universities still threatening this. Think this is unfair? Write to email@example.com and copy to firstname.lastname@example.org. And please sign our Open Letter to the VC.|
|Pressure on Leeds management|
|Alumni are coordinating a donations strike and external examiners are resigning in protest (see the growing list on this Twitter thread). Alice Goodman, the widow of the poet Geoffrey Hill whose archive is in Special Collections, wrote a strong letter to the VC urging him to reconsider, and to be “brave, wise and honourable”. Many historians are considering not attending the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in July, and all sorts of other events at Leeds have been boycotted.|
|Why didn’t UCU accept the ACAS ‘deal’?|
|A proposal came out of the ACAS talks between UCU and Universities UK (the employers), for each side to consult on. The proposal, for a temporary 3 year arrangement, did include an element of defined benefit, which was a slight improvement, but staff would still see average pension cuts of about 33% (compared to 40% in the original employers’ plan). Also contributions would have increased, benefits wouldn’t keep pace with inflation, and staff would be required to reschedule missed teaching. The proposal included an independent investigation of the scheme valuation, but this sounded like a talking shop not a genuine agreement to find a better solution. This proposal was democratically unanimously rejected by UCU branches across the country.|
|But isn’t there a deficit?|
|Experts have discredited Universities UK’s claim of a six-billion-pound deficit (tinyurl.com/uss-deficit1, tinyurl.com/uss-deficit3, tinyurl.com/uss-deficit4) – some of the valuation assumptions are very questionable, and independent analysis in fact shows a healthy picture. UUK made the decision to go for major pension cuts in a strange, unaccountable fashion (tinyurl.com/who-uuk, tinyurl.com/uss-bursars). Its behaviour has strained the patience even of some employers (tinyurl.com/go-churchill) who see the need for a fair deal for staff. You may have received an email “An Urgent update from the trustee” forwarded from USS. We would recommend reading this with extreme caution – see more details about the assumptions.|
|Oxbridge are rowing back!|
|Many individual Oxbridge colleges (who were counted as equivalent to big universities in the employers’ consultation) are now saying their responses supporting a big pension cut were not official. There has been uproar at both Oxford and Cambridge about this. Oxford’s VC has reversed her position, and the Cambridge VC has said he would support employers paying more while a more long term solution is developed and agreed.|
|About Universities UK (the employer body)|
|They are not subject to Freedom of Information and refuse to release details of their consultation. Their CEO, Alastair Jarvis is now urgently hiring a PR firm who will undoubtedly work to discredit UCU and cost a lot from our pensions. We need openness and transparency from UUK, not spin. We note that our Vice Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands, is on the Board of UUK and thus has influence that he could use for the benefit of staff.|
|What happens next?|
|Talks are expected to restart soon. Everyone hopes UUK will offer an acceptable deal but, if not, there will be further strikes after Easter (dates not yet decided). Nobody wants more strikes, but we cannot let the proposed changes go through. Some universities are already making constructive moves that show relations are improving, eg tinyurl.com/go-bristol, tinyurl.com/go-cambridge, tinyurl.com/go-leicester, and Glasgow’s VC said their “position is essentially the same as that of the UCU “.
Leeds UCU want to see:
1. A truly independent investigation into the USS scheme valuation, by a panel agreed with the union (i.e. not stuffed with finance firms with a potential interest in getting rid of defined benefit schemes and making profits from managing individualised pension pots)
2. A continuation of the current USS arrangements for the next 3 years whilst the investigation happens
3. No double docking of pay or any other detriment to members taking industrial action.
We want this sorted out once and for all, otherwise in 3 years’ time the employers will come back demanding further pension cuts, as they did in 2011 and 2014.