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Supporting the UCU strike as a student
By Rebecca Orr
From the 22nd February onwards, University staff members at 61 institutions across the UK will be taking escalating strike action in response to proposed changes to their pensions. Universities UK (UUK), the representative organisation for the UK’s Universities, have put forward changes to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) that could see staff members stand to lose as much as half of their retirement income.In switching from a pension scheme where staff have a guaranteed retirement income to one where pension income is subject to changes in the stock market, the position of lecturers and staff members is made more precarious. After talks between the University and College Union (UCU) and UUK reached a stalemate back in January, many members of the UCU felt that they have been left with no option other than to take industrial action.
As a student, I support the strike because I believe that the proposed changes to the pension scheme would be damaging for both staff and student members. First and foremost, staff deserve long-term job security, which changes to the USS pension would undermine. In pushing through changes that would reduce retirement income, UUK risk demoralising and demotivating staff who work long hours, for comparatively low pay, often on casualised or precarious contacts in the early parts of their career. If UK Universities fail to secure pension benefits for staff, then the recruitment and retention of staff members could be made all the more difficult. This has direct consequences for current and future students’ experiences of University.
For students looking to support the strike, there are a number of actions that can be taken (what follows is by no means comprehensive and further information can be given by UCU members at your University). Most simply, perhaps, if you want to express support then tell fellow students and strikers that you are behind the action. Don’t cross picket lines on the days of the strike and encourage other students not to do so. Support any motions passed by your Student Union to express solidarity with strikers. Write to your local MP and Vice-Chancellor to express support for the strike and ask for fresh negotiations. And, if you can, donate to the UCU Fighting Fund, which supports members involved in disputes by providing strike pay, where appropriate.
NUS has also provided a list of useful questions and resources for Students’ Unions here.