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University staff strike over pay, pensions

written by Bella Palmer

Fifty-eight universities will be affected where staff backed a ballot on strike action called by the University and College Union, halting lectures and tuition at the country’s largest universities

Over a million students will be hit by three days of strikes on campuses across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland starting on Wednesday, in the latest round of an increasingly bitter dispute in which university leaders have accused leftwingers within the University and College Union (UCU) of blocking progress over a possible deal.

Fifty-eight universities will be affected where staff backed a ballot on strike action called by the UCU, halting lectures and tuition at the country’s largest universities, including the Open University and University College London.

The union organising the walkouts has warned of further strikes next year.

The dispute is in part over the management and financing of the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), which provides pensions to the UK’s older universities as well as research institutes and academic thinktanks. The two sides are also battling over low pay and issues such as insecure fixed-term contracts used to employ an increasing number of teaching staff.

In a statement issued on the eve of the strike, Universities UK (UUK), which represents the employers in the pensions talks, argued that the strike was supported by only a minority of staff, and that the UCU’s leadership was being attacked by leftwingers.

Universities UK said the pension demands were ‘unrealistic’, could lead to ‘insolvency’ and added the UCU campaign ‘is nothing more than a smokescreen for their ideologically entrenched opposition to corporate finance’.

UUK, the umbrella body of universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said a potential deal over pensions had been undermined by the union’s own negotiators, whom it described as ‘members of the influential UCU Left faction’, saying that there was ‘a pattern of checks on the UCU leadership by UCU Left, who are affiliated with the Socialist Workers party’.

With such divisions in UCU’s decision-making bodies, it is difficult to see how a negotiated settlement over USS could ever be possible, UUK said in its statement.

In response, a UCU spokesperson said: It is beyond disappointing that just as 50,000 university staff are set to walk out on strike UUK has decided to spend its time targeting individual UCU members.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: Staff are asking for the bare minimum but sadly, the only time vice chancellors seem to listen is when staff take action.

Ms Grady has warned that more industrial action could take place in the spring if the row with employers remains unresolved.

Instead of engaging in desperate 11th-hour deflection tactics intended to undermine the strikes, UUK should come clean about the true impact of its pension cuts. After witnessing this bizarre intervention from UUK, students and staff will quite rightly ask why vice-chancellors are allowing their representative body to run amok instead of negotiating positively to resolve yet another dispute in the sector.


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