UCU members at 47 universities in England were the latest to take strike action against the employer’s proposals to ‘reform’ pension benefits following industrial action in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland last week.
These reforms are nothing more than a ‘smash and grab’ on our pension entitlements and will mean higher contributions, a raising of the retirement age and an end to the final salary scheme. For new lecturers, this could mean losses of hundreds of thousands of pounds even though the pension scheme is in good financial health.
The attack on pensions coincides with the wholesale restructuring - and, effectively, the privatization - of higher education in the UK with the near tripling of fees and the huge reduction in funding for teaching. Yet the government is about to spend more on funding universities in the next few years simply by paying for a hugely expensive loan scheme. So this isn’t about saving money but about marketising education. These are not necessary cuts but part of the government’s ideological determination to turn universities into supermarkets and students into customers.
SOAS students support the UCU strike. Video by jonasdalinstein
Not surprisingly, therefore, reports from the picket lines today have been incredibly positive. We have seen teach-outs at UCL and SOAS as well as a 300 strong rally in Manchester, more than 100 outside Birkbeck and some 75 at Goldsmiths which was boosted by the occupation the night before of Deptford Town Hall, the central administration building. Students called the occupation to show solidarity with striking UCU members and turned out in force on the picket lines to persuade other students to support the strike. The rally at Goldsmiths was addressed by the secretary of the local NUT association as well as representatives of all three campus unions and student occupiers. At the time of writing, Goldsmiths has been joined by occupations at Edinburgh, Kent, UCL and University of East Anglia.
This is the kind of solidarity that we will need in our campaigns against increased fees and the marketisation of education - lecturers, support staff and students standing together to demand an end to the cuts and ‘reforms’ that are threatening to make publicly funded universities a thing of the past.
This Thursday sees a national strike of all higher and further education institutions over a range of issues - job security, pensions and pay - but what stands behind it is a government and an ideology that is desperate to put the market impulse into every part of public services. The UCU strike is a major step in the battle against the cuts and its message of solidarity is crucial if we are to break the government’s ability to carry out its austerity measures.
Des Freedman is a UCU member at Goldsmiths University. The Goldsmiths occupation is at: http://savegoldsmiths.tumblr.com/
Des Freedman is Professor of Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of 'The Contradictions of Media Power' (Bloomsbury 2014), co-editor of 'The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance' (Pluto 2011), Vice-President of Goldsmiths UCU and former Chair of the Media Reform Coalition.
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