Lecturers And Students March To Defend Pensions

London Region and national UCU banners lead 5,000 marchers setting off for parliament
London Region and national UCU banners lead 5,000 marchers setting off for parliament

‘OUR STUDENTS’ union supports our strike and supports our right to strike,’ Sean Rowland UCU committee member at City University said, speaking on Wednesday’s 5,000 march of students and lecturers on the fifth day of their strike to defend their pensions. City University management had threatened the lecturers’ fundamental right to strike. Rowland explained: ‘Our management sent an email talking about how they were going to manage the industrial action.

‘They called for lecturers to cover the classes of those who were out on strike. They threatened that those who do not, will lose up to 100% of their pay. ‘They also said that lecturers would be liable if students decide to sue the university for “breach of contract”. ‘I believe this to be an empty threat that is unenforceable.

‘What they did do is they lost what little good will that they had left from the lecturers. And in fact it drove more lecturers to take strike action. ‘Our students are in complete support of our action and the students union have voted to support our action’.

The march took place on the fifth day of nationwide strike action taken by 61 universities against an unprecedented attack on the lecturers pensions. There were banners from SOAS, Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, UCL, City University, The Institute of Education and sixth form college banners from City & Islington College and The College of North East London.

15 colleges also came out on strike as staff are in the middle of a real fight over pay. Sandy Nicoll carrying a Unison SOAS banner said: ‘Unison members at SOAS have come down to support our colleagues on strike in the UCU. There are many higher education members which are represented by Unison. What they do to UCU they will do to our members down the line. We will be next, so we have to come out as one.’

UCL lecturer Kreso Bucar said: ‘We stand to lose more from the cut to our pension than I can afford.

‘If they continue like this, it will put education at risk because young academics and scientists will explore alternative careers and not go into education.’ His colleague Christoph Salzman added: ‘They have broken a promise! A pension is a promise to pay a certain amount of deferred wages, they are our wages.’

Student from UCL Efe Aydog said: ‘Students must be active. They must join their lecturers in their action. The reason I am here is to support my lecturers, but that is not the only reason I am here.

‘This strike is not only about pensions; it is about the marketisation of higher education. It must be given to everyone for free. ‘All courses must be free. The government want to give every course a different price. That is not only the marketisation of education it is the super marketisation of education! ‘This government has to go.’

Chantelle Elsbrook from SOAS said: ‘Our lecturers should not be treated like they are working in a factory, with their wages cut, their pension privatised and many of them forced onto zero-hours contracts. ‘These are professional learned people, who are being treated by the university management as cogs in a machine. ‘We are being treated like we are commodities to be brought and sold. This is not about education anymore. This is about big business and profit.

‘Knowledge is priceless. It must be free. Our union voted overwhelmingly to support the strike and we have brought down our banner and made our own homemade placards. ‘Mine says “Their working conditions. Our learning conditions!’ My lecturer has a placard which says “Penguins for Pensions” because it is so cold today!’

Elena Besussi, a politics lecturer and UCU member at UCL (University College London) told News Line: ‘When the strike was called, it was 14 days and we have done five. If there is no proposal to withdraw the changes to our pension scheme then the strike will continue.

‘We have only been out for five days and already we have brought Universities UK (UUK) back to the negotiating table.

‘Student support is solid. They know that our conditions at work is their condition of learning.

‘If we struggle, they struggle. I believe absolutely that education must be free.

‘There are countries in Europe like Denmark where being a student is considered a career, a profession. Students get paid a salary to study because they are bettering themselves, it is a job.

‘On the question of our pensions, the whole academic sector is now split, with some Vice Chancellors asking UUK to go back and negotiate. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Vice Chancellor of UCL.’

Institute of Education UCU branch president John Yandell said: ‘This is what trade unionism looks like. UCU is showing the trade union movement the tactics to take on austerity.

‘This dispute is absolutely about pensions, but it is also about what education at university level is for, who universities belong to. ‘So when the bosses are trying to privatise our pension, that is part of a much wider neo-liberal project to privatise education.

‘And the students get it. Tory PM Theresa May’s answer to the crisis in education is to give each and every course a price tag.

‘This is their attempt to turn education into a commodity. ‘Education is not a commodity, it is a right!

‘What she and her cronies are attempting to do is privatise education.’

Alexandre Brunstein, UCL student and NUS member studying European and Social Political Studies told News Line: ‘We have come down here to support our lecturers for one simple reason: The logic of marketisation. It is affecting our lecturers and it would be foolish to think that it will not affect students. ‘Students are already feeling the effects of rising rents in student halls and rising tuition fees. Students and lecturers are facing the same problem: Marketisation. ‘So we have to fight and strike together!’

Eddie Bruce, a law lecturer at Birkbeck, said: ‘You have to negotiate with the union before proposing such a huge shift in our pension plan. ‘These strikes are the inevitable consequence of a failure to negotiate with the union. ‘This is consistent with their constant privatisation agenda, outsourcing services to the likes of Serco and G4S. It is an extension of their policy which tends towards privatisation, in order to shift resources around to make profit and cut corners.’

Jack Lee, UCU rep from City and Islington College, was on the march with their banner and a lively delegation. He said: ‘Fifteen colleges are on strike today in a separate dispute, but we have come out together.  Our dispute is over pay. I started teaching in 2009, level 2, 3 & 4.

‘We have only had one pay increase in all that time, other than that, our salary has remained the same.

‘Our management have had multiple pay increases.  So whereas their pay has kept up with rising inflation, ours has not. Rent has gone up, food, bills and of course raising kids is expensive.

‘We have rejected a 1% pay rise because if inflation is over three per cent that is in fact a pay cut. We are demanding a 6% pay rise. ‘What the Tories are really moving towards is all college courses to be fee paid.  At the moment college education is free if you are under 19 years old and if you are 19 or over you have to pay.’