Should We Believe UCU?

Strike Timing That Puts Leaders Over Members

First, a relatively small and speculative thing: the timing of the previous strike. This ran from 25 November to 4 December of last year. That included one week that, for many Scottish universities, was during our exam period. There was no teaching that week to be disrupted by strikes and no basis for students to claim refunds. Nor could academic staff withdraw any labour besides the research they would have caught up with during that short reprieve before the marking period.

Three Fantasy Fights for the Ballot

Of the two strikes called in the last ballot, one is over USS pension contributions, the other is over the ‘Four Fights’. These are: pay devaluation, gender and ethnic discrimination in pay, casualisation, and excessive workloads.

Dishonesty About Pay Devaluation

One fight featured much more heavily both in the joint unions claim and in the ballot material: pay devaluation. There is no question that real salaries have declined for faculty and casual staff since 2008. There should be no need to distort the truth in order to make this case.

Obfuscation and Distortion on USS

The other dispute behind the next round of strikes is the continuation of the pensions dispute that started this all in 2018. The union continues to tell us, ambiguously, that it’s negotiating to keep employee contributions in the USS pension scheme, which covers a huge number of higher education workers, to 8%. But it’s not clear whether this means keeping us at 8% indefinitely, or only until sometime in 2021, when the new USS valuation will be submitted to the Pensions Regulator and we’ll know the new levels of contributions required to reduce the fund’s deficit. One of the negotiators presented this dichotomy to me quite starkly:

Striking for Glory

I think there’s a very real possibility that these strikes were pushed for by a leadership that cares more about grandstanding and broadcasting its radicalism to the world than actually effecting change. People do a lot to glorify themselves. I fear that that the reputation of the bold and radical UCU leaders will be the only benefit coming out of this strike, which in the meantime will impose enormous costs on UCU members, students, and other bystanders, such as support staff (some of whom have reported to me that their administrative loads become nearly unmanageable as a result of the disruption of strikes).

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