Lecturers Strike Escalating

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Pickets out in force at University College London
Pickets out in force at University College London

AFTER defeating attempts by their own union leadership to call off the strikes by forcing their leaders to throw out an unacceptable deal, lecturers were more determined than ever to win their battle to save their pensions, with over 60 universities across the country out on strike.

The pickets at University College London yesterday morning were in a buoyant mood. A picket said that they are determined to defend their pensions. Dan Gillery, a post graduate teaching assistant at UCL and UCU member, told News Line: ‘The strike is going well. There was an agreement on Monday between the union and the employer which was pathetic.

‘It was a pretty poor deal. It seems to show that we are forcing our employers onto the back foot.

‘If we keep up the pressure, hopefully we can keep them on the back foot and get something better.

‘It is important that we win. The attack on our pension is part of a wider move to privatise universities. ‘Increasing fees is part of the same. I want to see the end of this government.’

UCL lecturer Elaine Allan said: ‘We are definitely going to win. Monday’s offer was a farce. The strength of feeling shown in rejecting the deal shows we are in this for the long term until we win.

‘A general strike would be a good idea. It is what we need.’

At another UCL picket line, third year student Georgie Hurst was there with fellow students supporting the lecturers. She said: ‘I am here to support my striking lecturers – to support all the hard work that they do despite the cuts in education. ‘I am against the marketisation of education. All the unions should come out on strike and get rid of the government. People have had enough. ‘We don’t want this to be a fruitless fight, like the deal the UCU and UUK tried to push through.’

Ciaran, a UCL support staff worker said: ‘I have been on strike. I am a member of the union. I am disappointed that we have had to strike and negotiations have been treated in such a dismissive manner by UUK. ‘None of us want to be losing pay or prevent students from learning. But we were not listened to and we have had to take action.’

On the SOAS picket line, SOAS UCU branch president said: ‘Monday’s offer was not acceptable. The direct benefit was too low. We would have had to pay for a lot longer and we would have had to pay more. ‘Most members would accept paying more for the same pension if the employers paid more. But for a vastly reduced pension, to pay more for five years longer really was ridiculous and it was a three-year transition arrangement.

‘We would have a terrible deal for three years, so in three years’ time, what would we have after that? It would be worse. On top of that, the rescheduling of classes was also ridiculous. That is not what trade unions should do after striking. ‘You should not do the work you were not doing while you were on strike. The strike will be escalating in the summer. ‘We need to do 14 days more strike action and a marking boycott. Other unions coming out with us will be great.’

At Imperial College in west London, striking lecturers and admin staff were back on picket lines, determined to win their pensions fight. UCU rep Rod Sloroch told News Line: ‘Yesterday’s decision to reject the proposed deal was very heartening. It was a historic decision. ‘It shows that the strike action is having a big impact and is attracting new members to join the union. ‘It shows that the union is fighting on behalf of its members’ interests.’

UCU striker and physicist, Fay Dowker said: ‘The deal was bad in that it was unscientific and secret.

‘No-one had any confidence in it and it was unacceptable to the members.’ Strikers are demanding that Imperial College support the retention of the defined-benefit component of their pensions and say that, had they not reduced their pension contribution from 18.55% to 14% in 1997, there would be £7bn more in the fund.

A lively picket was held at Goldsmith’s university in south east London yesterday on the twelfth day of strike by lecturers. News Line spoke to picket Paul Halliday, a lecturer in the UCU union.

He said: ‘We had a meeting with the national executive of the UCU which put forward the proposals made with Universities UK (UUK) ACAS. ‘These proposals were resoundingly rejected by local branches.

‘Amongst other things it is a reduction of pensions from £55,000 to £42,000 which represents a significant loss to lecturers. ‘We hope constructive dialogue with employers will start to become more realistic. ‘We are worried that they want to review it in three years’ time. We see it as an incremental assault on pensions and working conditions. ‘If this is not resolved soon, there is a possibility of further strike action.’