Members of the biggest union in the Higher Education sector, UCU, are about to enter the biggest strike in the history of Higher Education in the UK. The Union called for a 14 days strike in order to fight drastic changes to the employees’ pensions. The employers’ association UKK wants to cut pensions by 40% and make them entirely stock market based. The UCU is resisting these cuts, fighting for better pensions. Pensions are earned and deferred wages, so cuts in pension are essentially wage cuts. Academics in the sector have already seen their pay decrease in real terms by 16% over the last five years. The union also sees the employers attempt as a wider attack on the education system becoming increasingly marketised and predicated on overwork by staff and drastic indebtedness amongst students.
Industrial actions are a last resort, when negotiations between employers and employees fail. They are not in the interest of staff who lose out their wages for each and every day they take industrial action. Nevertheless, employees are ready to take up this sacrifice in order to protect their interests and more broadly their beliefs of how employment should be organized, particularly in universities who have purported commitments to equality and inclusion and fair conditions.
In the current case, many employers are being extremely aggressive, threatening to dock between 25% to 100% of staff salaries indefinitely, if individual staff does not make up with the loss of labour due to the strike. In particular, they want employees to reschedule lectures that have been missed due to industrial action, some vice chancellors are even threatening to sue staff if students claim fees back.
As a research centre committed to examining contemporary employment relations, CERIC has received a number of comments from international scholars and trade unionists that show that an industrial action is never alone about a single issue but always also a civic act with broader social impact. Amongst others, these have included support from: The University of Aarhus, Denmark; KU Leuven, Belgium; University of Padova, Italy; and Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico.
Before ending this seminar I would like to say that I support your strike and I hope that this can also give greater power to a strike that some colleagues are organizing in Italy. Obviously nothing similar to your radical position, but just a one day strike that in any case has provoked panic in many colleagues. And this is very paradoxical in particular for people that study labour, sociology, employment relations, power and so on. In fact a strike is a very well-known situation even if we are usually studying it rather than doing it.
I think your strike is for the future, because pensions for many of us are the future. A pension is a crucial part of the wage, we call it deferred wage, but it is our wage. It is not a gift from anyone. I think it is a shame that people speculate about pensioners, because older people are in a particular situation: they are becoming weaker, sometimes they have health problems and maybe are not sure about the value of their pension. So in a sociological language we can say that pensioners are becoming precarious, but differently from the young, a pensioner has no longer the power to move in the labour market or to emigrate abroad.
Someone could describe academic lecturers as insiders, and someone could also say that we are privileged in the labour market. We may consider this to be true. But I think that our precarity will not solve the problems of others’. Quite the contrary: the worsening of our working conditions can only deteriorate the condition of precarious colleagues.
So I hope you can win your struggle and hoping that also in Italy this one-day strike can be successful. Remembering that the strike is important not only for the moment at which it happens, but it also has repercussions in the social relations that we are able to build after it. Inside and outside our workplace.
Associate Professor Devi Sachetto, University of Padova
I was a part of the British university system between 2008 and 2014. During this period I saw how working conditions – the conditions for good teaching and research – rapidly deteriorated. Not only due to government defunding, but also due to university managements attempting to transform institutions of learning and critique into corporations, rewarding themselves handsomely in the process.
So I consider it both just and important to resist the attack on pensions. Your students and non-academic colleagues at the university must know that your fight is a part of a broader fight. The pension cuts are a part of the construction of the defunded university, in which a precarious workforce is asked to serve heavily indebted “customers”, in order that the state can save money for noble causes such as bank bail outs and tax cuts for the wealthy.
In many ways, the British university system serves as a model for university development in Denmark. For this reason, your struggle is our struggle. Never forget that. When you are fighting to stop the downward spiral of British universities, you are helping your colleagues internationally too. And know that you can win: concerted resistance based on solidarity between lecturers and students has managed to stop some of the worst reforms of the Danish University system, including the introduction of student fees. In solidarity and friendship.
Dr Bue Rübner Hansen, University of Aarhus
Having done my PhD in the UK, I follow the debates about higher education there with great interest. I have been distressed to hear about the experiences of my friends and colleagues at UK universities who are facing declining pay and increasing precarity. The marketization and casualization of the university labour force is a trend we are seeing in North America as well, and it is one that we must resist. The proposed changes to the pensions scheme are unacceptable. I strongly support the strike action by UCU and from Ottawa, I teach and write in solidarity with my comrades in the UK.
Dr Megan Rivers-Moore, Carleton University, Canada
I send my full solidarity to the UCU strike, we have the same problem here in Mexico with the AFORE stock market-related privatised pensions introduced here in 2008, which our union opposes.
Dr Patrick Cuninghame, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM), Mexico City & member of the Sindicato Independiente de los Trabajadores de la UAM (SITUAM)
The Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters voted unanimously to stand in solidarity with University and College Union members in the United Kingdom on February 20, 2018
Whereas, Members of the largest union of university teaching staff in the UK, the
University and College Union (UCU), are fighting to stop an outrageous attack on retirement benefits;
Whereas, University administrators propose to end the current guaranteed pension plan, replacing it with individual investment accounts, on the pretext of a fictional deficit “crisis;”
Whereas, Workers in the United States, including New Jersey educators, are very familiar with the use of manufactured “crises” to undermine retirement plans, which attack workers’ long-term security by stealing their own deferred wages; Be it resolved that the AAUP-AFT chapters at Rutgers University call on Universities UK to give up their shameful attack on defined-benefit pensions and negotiate with UCU in good faith;
And be it resolved that we stand in solidarity with the members of the UCU, saluting their commitment to security, equity, and dignity in the workplace and in retirement.
Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters, USA
Working conditions and social rights of people are under growing attack all over the world nowadays. This strongly contradicts not only with a rationale of social democracy and social justice but also with the basic principle of decent working life within workplaces and society overall. In solidarity.
Professor Valeria Pulignano, CESO – KU Leuven
I would like to express my full support for the strike launched by the University and College Union in the UK Higher Education in response to the pension cuts related to the changes in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. I consider the lack of proper and good-will based negotiation around this issue with employers associated in the Universities UK unacceptable.
Decent pensions are essential for the quality of working live and retirement. In the context of ongoing, Europe-wide reforms of higher education institutions, the predictable situation of workers after retirement is crucial for their well-being.
Therefore, I would like to share my support and solidarity with striking University employees in the UK and Leeds Business School in particular.
I also support the call for immediate return to negotiations between unions and UUK.
I will share my support and information about the strike in my networks.
In solidarity !
With best wises
Adam Mrozowicki, Associate Professor, Institute of Sociology, University of Wrocław
Dear academic friends in Britain,
I was astounded to hear a few days ago about what is happening in British higher education. The employers association had proposed making pension payouts less generous by an average of ten thousand pounds a year and making them dependent on the stock market. You had voted overwhelmingly to respond with a 14-day national strike, the largest academic strike in UK history. Various universities had responded not only by docking pay for strike days, but also by threatening to reduce pay on non-strike days and taking legal action against strikers if students claim their fees back. Wow.
You need to win this strike, and the employers need to back down. You have already suffered more than enough. The squeeze on pay worsens your standard of living slowly but perceptibly. While attacks on pensions are not new in UK higher education, the current offensive by the employers really is astounding. It fills me personally with pride to see how you’re fighting back.
It is understandable that universities shift financial risk. But this attempt to shift financial risks onto academics has poisoned the workplace atmosphere in which research and teaching take place. Provoking this strike has already undermined the excellence of those institutions that the Vice Chancellors are supposed to be leading.
How do I know attacks on pay and pension are damaging to British universities? Occasionally, PhD students in the US ask me about the job market in Britain, because I worked there for ten years. Ten years ago I would have said that it’s a mixed bag. Pay is lower than the US, but for junior academics job security is higher, making it possible to pursue interesting and risky research agendas. Over the years, the situation has become less rosy. And now this conflict. International academics thinking of moving to Britain should know that it is a place where pay, pensions, and job security are under attack, and colleagues are angry and fearful. This is not an atmosphere in which the work of academics is apparently valued.
Britain’s universities are still among the best in the world, and Vice-Chancellors should be working to keep it that way. Instead, they have provoked a massive nation-wide strike. The employers need to bargain with the union, find a solution, and end the strike.
Prof Ian Greer, Cornell University, USA
University teachers in UK on strike over pensions
SULF, The Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers, supports our colleagues in the UK in their fight over university pensions. UCU (University and College Union) are taking strike action to defend university teachers right to a fair pension. University employers want to end guaranteed pensions and reduce retirement income for all.
– I want to express my solidarity with our colleagues in the UK. University teachers in general have always accepted pay levels that are lower than other groups with similar levels of education. A decent pension is a small compensation for that. The attractiveness of the academic profession has to increase, not decrease, if we want to build a sustainable high quality higher education and research. Poor working conditions is a serious threat to the attractiveness of the profession all over Europe, and therefore we stand beside our colleagues in this strike.
Professor Mats Ericson, president of SULF
To our collegues in Great Britain,
for ver.di department of science and higher education I send you our full support in your struggle against the changes and prospective cuts regarding your pension plans.
We know fully well the gap that lies between the countless political speeches about the importance of higher education and the utter disregard universities show for the employees, who are their backbone. Right now, the student employees here in Berlin are as well forced to take industrial action against their universities, which have not given them a pay raise in 17 years. The way they are treating us echoes your own experiences. But we will not let up and it strenghtens us to know, that you wont either.
Science is international. So is solidarity and our common struggle for fair working conditions. Keep up the fight!
Matthias Neis, Ver.di Resort Higher Education and Research
I want to express my support for the UCU action over proposed pension reforms and solidarity with colleagues who have taken a stand against yet another attack on the academic profession and Higher Education more broadly. Having spent most of my academic career working in a British institution (and dutifully paying into the UCS pension scheme) I maintain a keen eye on developments in UK HE. Working in the Swedish HE sector has given me a new perspective from which to consider the changes I witnessed over the course of my career in the UK: the increases in student numbers; the introduction and hiking up of tuition fees; class sizes increasing and the pressure put on academics to deal with the consequences; the increased demand for research publications, driven by the REF rather than scholarly contribution; VC’s salaries skyrocketing while average academic salaries stagnated. The British university system has maintained its reputation despite all of this because of the quality of academics working within it. The view of the UK higher education from abroad is of a system characterised by students being over-burdened with debt and VCs awarding themselves astronomical salaries. Something is very wrong. Taking a stand over this attack on academic pensions – part of the long-term bargain made with the employer – could not have come at a more important time.
In solidarity from Sweden.
Professor Robert MacKenzie, Karlstad University, Sweden
To University and College Union – UCU
We learned that Universities UK wants to cut your pensions by 40% and make them entirely stock market based.
This is not acceptable and we fully support that those colleagues under threat respond to these plans with industrial action.
We want to express our solidarity with your strike and hope you will be successful.
Dr. Wolfram Brehmer
Dr. Heiner Dribbusch
Birgit Kraemer M.A.
Prof. Dr. Thorsten Schulten
Dr. habil. Karin Schulze Buschoff
Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI
We, members of RENAPEDTS, the National Network of Research and Extension Groups in Labour Law and Social Security (Brazil), give full support to the strike action promoted by University Lecturers’ Union, feeling greatly concerned about how education professionals are treated, at the global level, and in universities in particular.
Adib Salim – Univesidade Federal do Espírito Santo
Aldacy Rachid Coutinho – Universidade Federal do Paraná
Cláudio Janotti da Rocha – Universidade do Distrito Federal
Clovis Renato Costa Farias – Universidade Federal do Ceará
Daniele Gabrich Gueiros – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Elsa C. Bevian – Universidade Regional de Blumenau
Everaldo Gaspar Lopes de Andrade – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco
Gustavo Seferian Machado – Universidade Federal de Lavras
Hugo Cavalcanti Melo Filho – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco
Jorge Luiz Souto Maior – Universidade de São Paulo
Juliana Teixeira Esteves – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco
Leonardo Vieira Vandelli – Centro Universitário Autônomo do Brasil
Lorena Vasconelos Porto – Universidade do Distrito Federal
Magda Barros Biavaschi – Universidade de Campinas
Maria Cecíllia Máximo Teodoro – Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais
Maria Rosa Barbato – Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
Murilo Oliveira – Universidade Federal da Bahia
Pedro Augusto Gravatá Nicoli – Faculdade de Direito de Minas Gerais
Rodrigo de Lacerda Carelli – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
We, Professors of Labor Law of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, give our support for strike action organized by University Lecturers’ Union, understand that there is a global attack on university professors and on all workers in general, which we are very concerned about. Only the struggle can prevent the destruction of the social achievements of the twentieth century.
Ana Luisa de Souza Correira de Melo Palmisciano, Carolina Pereira Lins Mesquita, Daniele Gabrich Gueiros, Fábio de Souza Silva, Ivan Simões Garcia, Patricia Garcia dos Santos, Rodrigo de Lacerda Carelli, Sayonara Grillo Coutinho Leonardo da Silva
In Solidarity with the UCU, Academic Strike in the UK
I would like to express my solidarity with our colleagues on strike at the University of Leeds – and other universities across the country – in defense of their pension system. I fully support your demand for a fair pension system. Save your pensions, which would be put on the stock market, is a legitimate struggle to face the attack against university staff but also against public sector workers.
This struggle has to be expanded as this kind of attack against workers is also in the works in several European countries.
Professor Christian Azaïs, Conservatoire national des arts et métiers – Paris
I express my full support for the strike undertaken by UCU members in the United Kingdom. Appropriate salaries and pensions are fundamental to keep a high quality of research and teaching. Our work, carried out with a strong but often invisible commitment, far beyond the expected workload, requires serenity and protection in relation to pensions. I hope that the competent bodies can stop these attacks on the fundamental rights of those workers who invest their lives in improving the life quality of all citizens.
Professor Barbara Peccei Szaniecki, Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
I send my solidarity and support the strike action by UCU at UK Universities. To protect pensions is fundamental, and a collective mobilization can produce a better social protection system, more oriented to a Universal Basic Income. I also think that the UCU teachers on strike will stand in solidarity with students about the increase of tuition fees.
Professor Giuseppe Cocco, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
I express my solidarity with academics on strike to protect their pensions. To end guaranteed pension benefits is clearly part of a more general process of commodification in higher education. Moreover, this will have a strong impact on the youngest generation of researchers.
Then I fully support the UCU members and my CERIC colleagues in particular.
Dr. Barbara Poggio, Vice-Rector for Equality and Diversity Policies at the University of Trento
In Solidarity with the UCU, Academic Strike in the UK
We wish to express our solidarity with our colleagues on strike at the University of Leeds – and other universities across the country – in defense of their pension system. We fully support your strike. It is an unprecedented attack not only against university staff but also against public sector workers.
As you may have heard, here in France the Macron government is now trying to destroy the terms and conditions of rail workers in order to hand over the rail system to the private sector.
A major attack against the pension system for all workers in France is also in the works.
In both countries – and all over Europe – we are faced with the application of the EU diktats imposing privatisation and marketisation of the public sector in the name of free and undistorted competition enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and all the EU institutions.
Dear Colleagues, please do not hesitate to send us a report on your strike. We will translate and circulate it.
Your struggle is ours.
Professor Donna KESSELMAN, Université Paris-Est Créteil
Dr. Corinne NATIVEL, Université Paris-Est Créteil
Professor Patrick Cingolani, directeur du LCSP (Laboratoire de Changement Social et Politique), Université Paris Diderot
Solidarity statement to my striking colleagues at Leeds University Business School
Herewith, I want to declare my solidarity to your strike against the planned pension reform and the financialisation of your pensions. I noticed with great pleasure the wide support of your students and your united fight against the commodification of academic institutions. There is intensive press coverage in German newspapers and the tenor is very positive and supportive regardless of the newspapers’ political orientation.
Together with my colleagues from the Sociology Department at the University of Jena, I ask your University Management to return to the negotiating table.
With my warmest solidarity greetings,
Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk, Friedrich-Schiller University Jena
We fully support the strike action organised by University Lecturers’ Union to protect the right to a fair pension. We hope that the UK strike is resulting in some changes and action.
Solidarity from your colleagues in Iceland!
Professor Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir
Dr. Thamar M. Heijstra
Dr. Gyda Margrét Pétursdóttir
Finnborg Salome Steinþórsdóttir
Thomas Brorsen Smidt
Faculty of Political Science, University of Iceland
Education, and mainly higher education, has been under attack for many years around the world, also in Italy. We hope to arrange the same in Italy but it’s difficult to build a sense of community and horizontal solidarity. Your strike is the right thing to do and the only thing I have to say is: Continue and Stay Strong.
Dr. Davide Arcidiacono, Catholic University of Milan
Dear colleagues at the University of Leeds, I stand in support of your struggle for fair, stable pensions. Cutting pensions by 40% and making them entirely stock market based may appear to some as a minor issue, unrelated to purely academic issues, but it’s not given the growing precariousness in higher-education employment all over the industrialized world. This precariousness affects scholars’ ability to do long-term, fundamental, fruitful research and it deters promising young scholars from entering an unstable profession. So the defense of fair, stable pensions is really an important part of a broader set of issues that truly impact research in more ways than immediately meet the eye.
Guillaume Marche, Professor of American studies, University of Paris-Est Créteil, France
I would like to express my total support to my colleagues at the University of Leeds and all other UK universities, struggling to defend their and our pensions. A pension is meant to (at least partially) secure one own’s future. It’s absolutely absurd to ask anyone to make pensions dependent on the stock market.
Thank you, because your struggle is part of a wider battle that we cannot loose, the one for a university which is public and of quality.
Dr. Roberta Ferrario, CNR (Italian National Research Council)
I express my warm solidarity to this – and to any other – struggle through which citizens and workers oppose direct and indirect policies of commodification of education.
Professor Vando Borghi, University of Bologna
we at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice want to express our full support for this strike. The reduction of pension rights is only the last step of a wider process of precarisation of the university which is taking place in UK and in Europe in general and is damaging teachers, researchers and students. We are with you in this struggle!
Sabrina Marchetti, Giulia Garofalo Geymonat, Antonio Montefusco, Daniela Cherubini, Anna Di Bartolomeo, Enrico Gargiulo, Gilda Zazzera, Francesca Coin, Duccio Basosi
Dear Colleagues at Leeds, all over the U.K.
We, trade unions at Université Paris-Est Créteil- UPEC (Paris University, Créteil Campus) representing the personnel of all categories – CGT, SNASUB-FSU, SNESup-FSU, SNPREES-FO, SupAutonome- FO and also the students – l’UNEF, we send our full and whole-hearted support to the strike of UK Lecturers and instructors called by the UCU (university lecturers’ union) in defense of your retirement system and rights.
The reduction, marketization, individualisation and floating on the stock market of retirement are blows against the public service, yet another stop towards privatisation.
Similar plans are being proposed by the French government, aimed particularly at public workers like ourselves, just as in your case.
The rampant precariousness in academic careers is an attack on our working conditions, on the quality of degrees of higher education and a fact that discourages young potential academics from entering the career.
In the name of “University Autonomy” since the 2007 LRU law, governments one after another have advanced the agenda of privatisation and undermined the national public statuses of the University and its personnel, while this status is indispensable for ensuring academic and research independence against outside pressures from the private sector.
The privatization of Universities is a policy being promoted by governments all around Europe under the aegis of the European Union.
Your struggle is our struggle.
To the UCU: in response to our Leeds Colleagues’ request, please resume negotiations!
At UPEC: CGT, SNASUB-FSU, SNESup-FSU, SNPREES-FO, SupAutonome- FO and l’UNEF