Thursday, 15 March 2018

RTUC Backs Lecturers' Pensions Dispute

As university staff's pensions come under attack, the Reading Trades Union Council has joined the University & College Union's picket lines at the University of Reading to show their opposition to the dilution of workers' rights. The UCU has produced the following news-sheet laying out the facts of the dispute and putting the lie to the pension administrator's suggestion that the University Superannuation Scheme is unaffordable. In fact, the USS has reserves enough to ensure a healthy pension scheme for all members for years to come.

The UCU's strike dates are as follows: Thursday 22 February; Friday 23 February; Monday 26 February; Tuesday 27 February; Wednesday 28 February; Monday 5 March; Tuesday 6 March; Wednesday 7 March; Thursday 8 March; and then the whole week of 12-16 March. Picketing is occurring at all entry points to the University campuses at Whiteknights (5 entries) and London Road (two entries) from 7:45am to 10:30am.

UCU Information Leaflets
As well as showing solidarity at the picket lines, giving out leaflets as well as offering moral support, UCU encourages supporters to write to the University of Reading's Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, expressing opposition to the proposed pension reform. A model letter (sent by email to by an RTUC member) is given here:

Dear Sir David Bell

I am writing as a doctoral graduate and former lecture in history and English literature at the University of Reading, with four years' contributions in the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), to protest at the proposed reforms to the USS - from a defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution scheme. I am angry to know of your personal support for this reform and aghast to learn of Sir Andrew Cubie's use of his casting vote (as Chair of the USS Board) to push defined contribution onto all members of USS. As I am sure you are aware, it is conventional for a casting vote to maintain the status quo when a body is in dead heat - not be used to force a decisive change of policy on a divided body.

The economic arguments for reform have not been made. On the contrary, the scheme's assets have increased at an average of 12% per year over the last 5 years and now value more than £5 billion, while projected income and expenditure for 40 years show that payments to pensioners are covered by contributions paid in without touching the assets.

As a responsible employer, I urge you to rethink your position on the proposed USS pension reform. A defined benefit scheme (even the career average earnings scheme which replaced the final salary scheme in recent years) allows your staff peace of mind to plan for their retirement with a modicum of understanding about the likely financial health of their pensions. A defined contribution scheme removes this peace of mind and leaves your staff vulnerable to the uncertain performance of the stock market - an institution which is prone to cyclical downturns and which has been returning poorer and poorer results for pensioners over the past several decades.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your reply - and hope you will see the light and reposition yourself as a supporter of maintaining the defined benefit pension scheme. You would be joining such luminaries as your Warwick University counterpart, Prof. Stuart Croft, who went on record just last month supporting a defined benefit scheme.

RTUC delegates, Cllr Sarah Hacker (front left, UNITE) and Kevin Jackson
(front right, UNISON) support the UCU picket line on Shinfield Road
Week 1: After two strike days, RTUC support has been captured at both the Shinfield Road and Earley Gate entrances to the Whiteknights Campus. Nada Al Sanjari (NEU), John Gillman (UNITE), Cllr Sarah Hacker (UNITE), Kevin Jackson (UNISON), John Oversby (UCU), James Parker (UNITE) and Melani Schroeter (UCU) demonstrated the fraternity of workers across trade unions in defending the victories hard won over the decades of struggle for rights.

RTUC delegates, John Gillman (6th right, UNITE), Melani Schroeter
(4th right, UCU) and Nada Al Sanjari (right, NEU),
supports the UCU picket line at Earley Gate
Week 2: The second week of picket lines showed a continuation of UCU strength, plus strong solidarity support, with Keith Jerrome (UNITE) joining the aforementioned contingent from RTUC. In addition, Labour's Reading East MP, Matt Rodda, joined the protest - demonstrating his personal commitment to advance the Labour Party's policy of supporting strike action against austerity politics.

John Oversby (left, RTUC & UCU) and Matt Rodda MP
(7th left) join the picket line in week 2
Week 3: RTUC continued their support of the UCU strike with John Partington (TSSA) leafleting on Redlands Road, outside the Acacia Road entrance to the London Road campus.
John Partington (left; TSSA) joins
the Acacia Road picket line
UCU's 'Education Unlimited' Teachout - alternative education during
strike days. Melani Schroeter (RTUC & UCU) front third from left
Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU) at the banner-making workshop
Nada Al-Sanjari (third right, NEU) and Melani Schroeter (second right, UCU)
at a Teachout event at the Rising Sun Arts Centre (© Peter Kruschwitz)
Week 4: John Gillman (UNITE) of RTUC continued his support of the strike, backing the Reading students occupation of Whiteknights House, the administrative headquarters of the university.
John Gillman (UNITE) backing the student
occupation of Whiteknights House

RULCS defy RUSU - but back the NUS - in supporting striking academics