UCU vs UUK

pensions shit

Once you reach a certain age you become an expert in pensions, and what I now know (state pension not withstanding) is that they fall into two broad categories, defined contribution and defined benefit schemes.

If you’re a member of a defined benefit scheme then, irrespective of your or your employer’s contributions, you know what you’re getting at the end: it’ll be a proportion of either your final salary, your career average earnings or somewhere in between. Your contributions may go up or down but, by and large, the financial risk is taken by your employer. The public sector pensions which came under government attack in 2012 are defined benefit schemes; “gold plated” as their pals in the press would have you believe, “our deferred wages, paid to us in retirement, pensions that we pay handsomely for” we respond.

Conversely, if you’re in a defined contribution scheme, the risk is all yours. You know how much you’re going to pay, and how much your employer’s going to put in, but that money’s invested by the pension company in stocks, shares, property etc. and results in a “pot” available to you on retirement with which to buy an annuity. An annuity is you going to an insurance company and saying “I’ve accumulated £ x-thousand over my working life, if I give it to you, how much will you pay me a year for the rest of my days?” And the answer is, you’ve guessed it, market-dependent.

blackboardWhy is this important? Well, the first attack on the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) was in 2011 [1] , when it moved from a final salary scheme to a career average earnings scheme, saving the employers a ton of money.

(“Who are the employers?” I hear you ask. Well for these purposes they’re Universities UK (UUK) the chancellor, vice-chancellor and principal’s club that dates back to a 19th century consultative committee. Effectively, the marketisation [2]  of higher education has turned universities into businesses and pension reforms into marginal gains.)

But worse was to come. In 2017/18, despite members’ contributions continuing to rise, UUK decided to close the defined benefit portion of the USS, shifting all the risk to the workers. They decided to, but it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for one reason and one reason alone: sustained and determined strike action by UCU members. Don’t let anyone tell you that striking doesn’t work. [3]

So, why are they back on strike? Well, part of the resolution of last year’s dispute was the creation of the Joint Expert Panel to review the valuation of the pension scheme and (surprise!) the employers have decided to ignore some of the panel’s findings.

Today’s picket at Goldsmiths was as large and lively as the one that Russ and I visited last year, despite losing a bunch of activists to various Labour Party canvassing activities around London. They’re well-organised (well, they are teachers) and in good spirits.

We talked about the FBU pensions victory and the potential impact on millions of public sector workers’ pensions, Grenfell, Boris Johnson, solidarity, rudimentary sound engineering [4] and the general election. And we sang a few songs. [5]

 

The message is clear: UUK – play fair on pensions, the UCU ain’t going anywhere.

picket line

Steve

[1] https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-explained

[2] The Jarratt Report, published in 1985, laid the groundwork for the transformation of universities into factories, students into customers and academics into education delivery vehicles, consolidated and accelerated by the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 pa by the 2010 coalition government.

[3] We can have the debate as to whether music can change the world, but the Goldmiths end of this dispute was supported by both The Protest Family and Maddy Carty. Just sayin’.

[4] Keep the mic behind the speaker!

[5] We know a bunch of songs about strikes: Mrs Windsor’s Geraniums, Funky Lol’s Picket Line and Bad Day for Bojo to name but three.

1 thought on “UCU vs UUK

  1. kevin saint

    As a 36 year employee of UCL as a technician, branch sec for 22 (ASTMS, MSF, UNITE) and a member of SAUL, I support the UCU in spirit – stay strong.
    The CVCP is an organisation that needs to be kicked into history.
    All the best,
    Kevin Saint

    Sent from my iPhone

    Like

    Reply

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