University and College Union members are voting on a deal that would see strikes in over sixty universities called off in return for an independent review of pension provision. Voting ends on 16 April.
Fourteen days of strike action in February and March forced university bosses UUK to ditch a plan to end guaranteed pensions. But now strikers are being asked to put their trust in a process that may produce nothing better.
Back in March, employers offered a transitional three-year deal — better than their starting point but still a huge cut — which was forcefully rejected with the slogan ‘No Capitulation!’ The union leadership went back to negotiations and the employers offered a working group instead. This group will look at the details of the contentious pension fund valuation.
The employers say they want to keep some element of “defined benefit” pension. But the rejected March proposal kept that too. It guaranteed pensions on salaries up to £42k (about the third point on the main lecturer scale) instead of the current £55k (roughly the top of the senior lecturer scale). This looks very much like a way to get that through by the back door. The language the bosses are using is very close indeed to the wording of the March offer.
Supporters of the plan say if it doesn’t work we can come back for more action. But it will be much harder to convince people to fight again next year if they see minimal results for their fight now. There is already a backlog of work thanks to the strikes and working-to-contract, and Unison is balloting to join the dispute. Why abandon that to start again from scratch?
UCU has strong arguments to put to the independent pensions review. But winning the argument is not the same as winning a dispute. As it stands the offer means the strikes will be called off with nothing but warm words in return. That is not good enough.
The leadership of UCU have been badly lacking in this latest stage of action. Instead of going back to the employers and saying “this is good but we need more guarantees”, as many branches wanted, they put the offer straight to members over the Easter break. The timing (as UUK no doubt know) means it’s tricky to organise collective discussion of tactics. Worse, the General Secretary sent the ballot with an email that comes as close as it can to recommending a “yes” vote without actually doing so.
Activists have been using social media to make an alternative case, and organising for a No vote. Let’s not settle for less than we can get.
• For expert briefings on the dispute from activists, see www.ussbriefs.com