Tag Archives: general election

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.

The Replacement of Rights with Gifts (And How to Put It in Reverse)

The Trussell Trust opened their first food bank in the UK in Salisbury in 2000, by 2004 there were two. Today, after nearly a decade of austerity, there are thousands [1], and their use, as difficult, demoralising, humiliating as it is for some, has become normal. The role of the state to protect the food security of its people has been abrogated in favour of the kindness of strangers, the rise of food banks applauded in some circles as growth in the power of community organising and on the right as demonstration of the success of a small state, Blair’s third sector, Cameron’s big society. [2]

Worse: in-work poverty. The number of people qualifying for the support of food banks who actually have jobs but are paid so poorly, often by super-rich multi-national corporations, that they’re forced to rely on charity for food, toiletries, sanitary products. You might as well pay for your basket of shopping at the checkout then put it all straight back on the shelves. This is life at the coalface of capitalism, this year’s ragged-trousered philanthropists work in call centres and supermarkets.

not-charitybut-solidarity

We Shall Overcome, now in it’s fifth year, offers a raised fist and a helping hand, and the helping hand, directed by local organisers, artists and promoters has often been held out to food banks, a direct interface with some of those hardest hit by austerity.

As for the raised fist: now’s the time. We stand on the threshold of major change if Labour are successful in next month’s general election. Joe Solo and Grace Petrie are hitting the road supporting CLPs, the Protest Family still slip from venue to picket line to fundraiser. While others pontificate about polls and parliamentary arithmetic, WSO activists are focussing their energy on the real possibility of a better world. Sociologist Janet Poppendieck warned that the institutionalisation of food banks can be difficult to resist and overturn. [3] We have a chance to prove her wrong, to consign Food Bank Britain to the dustbin of history.

WSO What's Cookin' 2019

Whether our next WSO gig, on 14th December, turns out to be a celebration or a show of solidarity in the face of future uncertainty is yet to be seen. What’s clear is the helping hand will still be required, so please, fill the venue, fill the bucket, fill your soul with music and common purpose, it promises to be something of an occasion whatever happens.

Steve

 

1.https://web.archive.org/web/20130112223915/http://www.trusselltrust.org/resources/documents/Our%20work/Lambie-%282011%29-The-Trussell-Trust-Foodbank-Network—Exploring-the-Growth-of-Foodbanks-Across-the-UK.pdf

2. In 2017, Jacob Rees-Mogg told LBC that he found the rise in food bank use as “rather uplifting”

3.https://web.archive.org/web/20130112230035/http://www.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/gpp/foodsecurity/publicevents/householdfoodsecurity/food_security_summary.pdf

The Side of the Fox

Fox Logo

Genuinely written one Boxing Day out of anger and frustration waiting for the hit reports to come in.

As the election approaches, a reminder: there may be no manifesto pledge to repeal the Hunting Act but Boris Johnson is pro-hunt. He repeatedly voted against the ban and even went so far as to suggest hunting urban foxes on horseback. “This will cause massive unpopularity but I don’t care” he quipped. Oh, what a laugh.

Of course Farage is too, it speaks of the imaginary England that he wants to return to, and he supports the violent and bloodthirsty Old Surrey, Burstow and West Kent hunt.[1] His decision not to stand in the election is both cowardly and cute, as it frees him up to travel the country campaigning with Brexit Party candidates with no pressure to succeed in his own constituency.

I’m acutely aware that Protest For Dummies, the album that features The Side of the Fox, is approaching it’s third birthday, and that the time, space, finance and recording logistics for the fourth Protest Family studio album are still matters for the future, so, taking them into my own hands, I will attempt to record the band myself over the next few weeks, having learned some valuable lessons in the process of creating solo efforts Snowflake and Fake News From Nowhere.

Fox, due a refresh with drums, is on the list, with another five songs currently in guide track form. Next step is Andi on the kit and then we’ll see.

Wish us luck, and (watch this space).

Steve

Boys and Dogs

[1] https://www.huntsabs.org.uk/index.php/faqs/92-news/press-releases/552-nigel-farage-attends-boxing-day-meet-of-violent-huntsman-again