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Higher education lecturers across the UK on strike for pensions

By Fabian Van Onzin

Student occupation at University of Stirling.

Glasgow, Scotland – As of March 17, for the last month, lecturers across the United Kingdom have been on strike in response to changes in their pension plans. The employers’ organization, Universities UK (UUK) are attempting to abolish the lecturers’ existing pension plans, which guarantees retirement based on their salary. They want to replace this pension scheme with one that would be determined by the stock market, which is highly unstable and does not guarantee retirement. The University and College Union (UCU) has argued that this new scheme would make lecturers lose over £10,000 a year, and £200,000 by the time of retirement – equivalent to about $280,000.

After much debate and discussion, 88% of the membership of the UCU voted to strike, which has been ongoing at universities across the UK for the past month. They are demanding that universities keep the existing pension scheme and scrap the proposals for a market-driven pension plan. The strikers have faced intimidation by university administration, who have threatened to sue the lecturers for lost teaching hours. They have attempted to use alt-right students to agitate against the lecturers and scare them into capitulation. Their attempts to force the lecturers into surrender have entirely failed, as students at universities in England, Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland have stood in solidarity with their professors. They have engaged in sit-ins, occupying lecture halls to force non-union lecturers to cancel class and prevent strike-breaking.

In Scotland, there has been a particularly high level of student participation with the strike. At the University of Stirling, students formed Stirling Students Support the UCU Pension Strike. About 30 students occupied the Logie Lecture Hall, in which many first-year introductory courses are taught. They have been occupying the lecture hall since March 14, and have successfully forced the university to cancel dozens of courses in order to strengthen the strike. Important labor leaders, trade union officials, and members of the strike have supported the students, bringing them supplies and helping boost morale. The university has threatened them and attempted to force them to leave by shutting off the heat during very cold weather conditions.

Wullie Cunnigham, one of the organizers of the occupation, said “Since our occupation began on Wednesday [March 14] the senior management of the university have ignored any and all calls for dialogue. We have been humbled by the support our striking lecturers have shown us and we are steely in our resolve to not leave until our demands are met. The loss of their largest lecture theatre a week before the 'prestigious' Williamson lecture is sure to be weighing on their minds. We will continue to stand in solidarity with both the UCU and any other industrial actions ongoing while we occupy!”

The strike is expected to continue, as the universities have not given in to the lecturers’ demands. If the universities refuse to capitulate, the UCU has threatened to continue the strike during the exam period.

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