Escalate to win the pay inequalities and pension fights




Strike to win - pickets and student supporters in Cambridge, 4 December 2019

Strike to win – pickets and student supporters in Cambridge, 4 December 2019

The five issues we are fighting on are inextricably linked. We need to escalate to win on all of them.

We are in a fight to defend the future of Higher Education from the effects of marketisation. The Four Fights pay and equality campaign is central to that fight and it’s crucial for all of us that we win it.

Download and get this motion passed in your branch.

The threat to the USS pension is serious. It could mean the death of a pension worth the name in the pre-92 universities. But as round two in the USS fight was brewing, we realised that we could not afford to fight on pensions alone. The Four Fights campaign on pay, equality, casualisation and workload is a necessary compliment to the pension fight, for several crucial reasons.

1.Pensions are nothing other than deferred pay, pay that employers and employees agree to hold back until we need it when our working lives are over. If we don’t halt the ten-year erosion or our pay, any victory on pensions is partial at best.

2. It’s not much use defending the pension scheme if large numbers of our colleagues are effectively excluded from it because they are in insecure employment. Combatting casualisation is essential to ensuring a new generation of entrants to the scheme and guaranteeing its future health.

3. If we’re fighting over what is fair and right, we can’t afford to ignore inequality. Our pensions are better than most, but they don’t look so good from the perspective of women whose careers have stalled through maternity breaks or of BAME colleagues who have been passed over for promotion.

4. Excessive workloads which threaten our health and sometimes our lives are the product of the huge numbers of redundancies seen in the sector over the last few years. We face a Hobson’s choice: you can survive to claim a full pension or you can keep your mental health, not both.


But the final reason that the Four Fights is necessary is the most important of all. It is about unity. Unity is our chief weapon – unity across the sector and unity across our union.

With the help of the anti-union laws, our employers try to divide us from each other and limit our resistance. Round one of the USS fight was a game-changer for our union, but it only involved members in pre-92 institutions. Post-92 members are not allowed to be in dispute over USS, but we are not bystanders. We all know that attacks on TPS pensions will intensify if they succeed in wrecking USS.

Levels of casualisation are mostly lower in the post-92s than in the research-intensive universities, but the cancer of precarious contracts is an issue for all of us. Inequality is a scourge across the whole sector, while workloads are rising to unmanageable levels everywhere. Pay unites us all.

That’s why the decisions taken by Sector Conferences and the HEC to wage the Four Fights simultaneously with the pension fight was correct. The law dictates that they are two separate deputes, but it can’t stop us fighting them together.

We have made an excellent start. Eight days of strikes in 60 institutions represents an impressive demonstration of our intent. Some branches are in one dispute, some in two, but we have refused to separate our fights because to do so would play into the hands of those who want to use marketisation to fragment our sector.


Now the crucial task is to escalate the action. The reballots in 36 more branches are absolutely central to a Second Wave. The employers will be hoping that Labour’s election defeat has sapped our morale and we fail to bring more members into the fight. But we always knew that we would have to escalate whoever was in Downing Street. Where possible we should follow the lead of Cambridge who have twinned with Anglia Ruskin to help them get the vote out. Kent can twin with Canterbury Christ Church, Leeds with Leeds Beckett and Leeds Trinity and so on.

Escalation is also about upping the number of days of action in the Second Wave. December’s Sector Conference voted for 14 days of USS strikes in February and March. The HEC due to take place on January 30th must now endorse that decision and call the same days for the Four Fights dispute.

Now is not the time for hesitation or cold feet. Linking the issues and uniting members in escalating action is the way to win.


Jo McNeill, University of Liverpool and Mark Abel, University of Brighton, Co-Vice Chairs of HEC


Leaflet: FE for a united pay fightback

All employers have now been sent notification declaring a dispute and announcing an industrial ballot.  The ballot will open on 30 August and close on 19 October.

Whilst it is a busy time of year for us all we need to get our branches up and running and organising a Get The Vote Out (GTVO) campaign to maximise the turn out.

Click here to see some excellent videos of FE members arguing the case for a pay rise.

This is a national ballot organise on a disaggregated basis (ie college by college). Click here a list of all the colleges that will be balloted

This year’s campaign follows from the successful campaign pursed by 12 FE colleges who struck over pay and conditions. These colleges proved that not only can we reach the new government ballot thresholds but we can also convince members to take sustained strike action. The vast majority of these branches succeeded in winning better pay and conditions.


If you want better pay at your college it is important that you vote. We need 50% of eligible UCU members at your college to vote before UCU can take strike action to fight for better pay where you work.

After a decade of below inflation pay raises staff in FE are more than 25% poorer. It’s worse in colleges where increases haven’t been paid.  No other public sector staff have suffered worse pay cuts.

No-one thinks that pay in FE is fair. The Association of Colleges (AoC) agrees that pay in FE is too low. School teachers earn £7,000 a year more for doing the same work as lecturers. Staff recruitment and retention in colleges are at crisis levels. This is a fight for FE’s survival; for staff and students.

The AoC response to the unions’ claim is to say they want to recommend a significant pay increase for all FE staff but cannot unless government gives colleges the cash to do it.

Warm words about what the AoC want to do won’t feed families or pay rent. Meanwhile the most recent figures show one third of FE CEOs/principals were awarded a pay rise of 10% or more.

As the public sector cap is lifted and school teachers and others are offered above inflation pay increases FE will be left behind unless we fight for better pay in FE.

We need the AoC and colleges to pay staff some respect, not play for time. FE Staff have waited long enough and the pay crisis is too serious to ignore. Colleges must act on pay now.

The only way to get better pay in FE is for FE to FIGHTBACK



Build the HE Pay Dispute

Get the Vote Out: Unite the sectors, reverse the pay decline – and make the pre-92 employers pay for USS

UCU Pay, Equality and Workloads Ballot — 30 August to 19 October


Following the extraordinary End the Gender Pay Gap - protest in London, HE strike 2016USS dispute, our union now has an opportunity to unite the HE sector over pay. If activists get behind this fight in the way that we did around USS in Pre-92 we can build the union and show that we are a force to be reckoned with across both parts of the sector.

It may be old fashioned for some, but activists should be clear: our strikes are part of a class struggle over the future of Higher Education, and our members – and non-members around us, who joined to participate in it – recognise this basic fact. A recent survey of branches involved in the USS dispute found that those with the strongest left leadership that took the firmest position against retreat, were also the branches whose membership grew the most – in some cases by over 50% in three months.

A proper national pay fight would be unfinished business for the new young and older members, from PhD students to young administrators, researchers and teaching fellows, who joined UCU in their tens of thousands during the USS dispute. Close to the breadline and a long way from their pension, they staffed our picket lines from Day 1. A pay fight would also address the gender pay gap and the bitterness created by horrendous workloads which were highlighted in the USS strikes. Now is the time to take up their fight – over pay, casualisation, inequality and workload – and show that UCU is the union they deserve.

In Pre-92, with the USS pension debate closeted in the JEP over the summer, starting a pay campaign might appear a diversion. It is the opposite. If we take this opportunity seriously, a strong Get the Vote Out campaign over pay can do two things. It will make clear we expect the employers to pay any increased contributions to USS (rising to 3.7% by April 2020, i.e. a pay cut). It will be a dress rehearsal for Round 2 of USS campaign in the Autumn term should the JEP fail to move the position of the USS ‘deficit’.

In post-92 it can halt the crisis emerging over jobs and workloads arising from the market for student fees. There is a jobs massacre concentrated in Post-92 (London Met, Man Met, Westminster…) but also spreading to Pre-92 (Manchester, Liverpool…). Brexit looms over the market madness that sees superb Post-92 courses unfilled and lecturers sacked, while students flock to the Pre-92 down the road. This market madness means any grace is temporary, and no job is safe. The need for a pay fight that can unite the sector on our terms cannot be understated.

We must stand together, staff and students, to defend Higher Education as a public good, with staff paid properly, and pensions that won’t mean poverty in retirement.

Doorstep arguments for pay

  • We need to catch up. Our pay has fallen by some 14% against RPI since August 2008 – the last time we had a proper pay increase. Against CPI, which takes no account of housing costs – as if university staff did not pay rent or mortgages! – we have had a pay cut well over 10%. This is equivalent to working for free for more than a month. For the lowest paid, this scale of pay cut is the difference between making ends meet and living on credit and food banks.
  • We need to keep up. The present pay offer of 2% (with a slightly larger increase for the very lowest paid) represents a pay cut of between 0.2% and 1.2% against the ONS projections of inflation for August (CPI and RPI respectively).
  • In Pre-92, if USS cost-sharing is imposed, members of that scheme will be on a steep and costly slope to paying more. We will pay 0.8% more this April, rising to 2.4% in October 2019, and with 3.7% being paid from April 2020 onwards. A ‘mere’ 0.2% pay cut against CPI will be a 4% cut. Only if we fight over pay can we make the employers pay for their actions.
  • The employers can afford to pay up. For thirty years until 2008, universities paid ‘cost of living’ increases roughly coinciding with inflation. They recorded tiny surpluses – around £150m pa in total. After the government introduced £9K student fees, sector surpluses shot up, to the current £1-2bn pa. Using HESA figures for 2016/17, £1.1bn split equally between 420,000 staff is about £2.5K each. £2bn brings our pay back to 2008 levels. The money is there to meet the pay claim of 7.5% in full.
  • Not fighting over pay encourages market madness. The employers are spending their surpluses on speculative expansion in competition with each other. We are seeing the outcome of this speculation in the current crisis in post-92. Forcing them to pay staff properly would help curb this speculation – it would help us defend HE against the market madness.
  • Every vote counts. Whichever way members intend to vote, it is essential that every member participates. The Tories’ anti-democratic anti-union laws mean that 50% of members must vote for the ballot to have a legal effect. Even if members intend to vote No, make sure they vote.

Get the Vote Out, Starting Now

We need a ‘GTVO’ campaign in every branch to start as soon as possible. Start with a GTVO organising meeting for reps and members who want to get involved. Go through the arguments with members and plan a strategy. Ask members to focus on reminding colleagues in their own department. Ask members to inform the branch when they vote and keep an accurate list of who is still to vote. The main reason members don’t vote is simply because they forget to vote. So keep reminding them with regular communications. If they have lost their ballot paper they can ask for another one.

Get posters up everywhere across the college, and draft targeted messages to members – at least one a week reminding members to vote. Some teaching staff will get ballot papers sent to their department address, and may not pick them up until before the start of term. But they can vote earlier, if they ask for a replacement ballot paper sent to their home address.

Organise a branch meeting at the end of September at the start of the Autumn term, to prepare a Stage 2 mass campaign. Organise meetings in departments and buildings ensuring that members in off-site institutes are able to attend.

The vote closes on 19 October, which means paper ballots should be in the post by 16 October to be safe.