The deal which UCU and UUK have agreed falls a long way short of what is possible, and members who have been on the picket lines in the snow and rain for three weeks clearly expect a lot better.
We are being asked to accept swingeing cuts to our pensions as part of the transitional arrangement: the change in accrual rates alone will take nearly 20 percent of the value of our pensions, never mind the impact of CPI and lowering the threshold for Defined Benefit to £42k, and we are being asked to pay more in contributions.
The inflation cap of 2.5% will hit new USS members the worst. If inflation continues at the same average rate it has had over the past twenty years, members will lose a further 26% of their pension in addition to all the other proposed cuts. So this is a divisive element which perpetuates and deepens the intergenerational unfairness contained in the earlier agreement which first introduced a DC element.
Moreover this agreement is only temporary, giving us at best a three-year pause before the employers come back with more cuts. The proposal to consider Collective Defined Contribution opens the door to a future agreement on a Defined Contribution scheme which has no guaranteed benefits. After 11 days of strike action we are being asked to agree to the very thing we have taken action to oppose.
Worse than this, the agreement ‘encourages’ UCU members to reschedule teaching. This will encourage employers to go on the offensive and leaves our members vulnerable to victimisation through pay docking for ‘partial performance’. Moreover, it suggests that the union accepts the employers’ spurious arguments that it is our strike, rather than their intransigence and incompetence which has caused disruption for students. We have seen magnificent support for the strike from students around the country, we should not give in to the employers’ blackmail but continue to build political unity with students around a common defence of higher education from marketization. At Cambridge members are being asked to accept this shoddy compromise at the very moment when students have occupied the University administration buildings in support of our demands for a decent pension. They are demanding that the University stops acting like a corporation and starts behaving like a University once again – a call which is popular well beyond the ranks of UCU.
We know that our strike has fractured the employers’ unity at a local level, with VCs around the country being forced to break with various aspects of UUK’s line. This shows the potential for winning a much better deal than the one on the table now.
But we cannot demobilise, we should reject any calls to suspend the strikes which have already been announced for this week. Any wavering now will hand the advantage to the employers.
Reject the agreement, keep the action on.