UCU vote to suspend strike action

Y U NO FIGHT FOR OUR PENSIONS UCU

On Tuesday the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) held a special conference to determine where we go next in our pensions dispute. For those who haven't been following the intricacies of it all I'll attempt to briefly lay out where we were going into this meeting and what happened there.

UCU represents academic and what's known as academic related staff - that is IT support, librarians etc. - in both higher (HE) and further (FE) education. Higher education is then often, and indeed in the case of pensions, split between "post-92" and "pre-92" institutions (post-92 referring to the polytechnics and colleges that were awarded university status in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, pre-92 naturally referring then to older universities). Staff in pre-92 institutions are members of a pensions scheme called USS (universities superannuation scheme), which is a private pension plan with a dedicated fund from members and universities as employers. Staff in FE and post-92 HE are, instead, members of TPS (teachers pension scheme), which is a government programme also covering school teachers.

Both schemes are currently in the process of being altered in ways which will increase contributions from staff, increase the retirement age and leave members with smaller overall pensions. (To go through all the changes being proposed would take too long, so I'll simply advise the interested reader to see here and here.) Changes to both schemes have also seen industrial action over the last year - first in March of 2011 over USS changes, then again in June of last year and finally on November 30th in coordination with other public sector unions.

That action forced some (small) concessions. The government's "final offer" to the unions in December, which covered the TPS dispute, but not USS, offered a slight improvement in the accrual rate (the amount earned each year), an 8% increase in the "cost ceiling", the maximum that the government is willing to spend on the pensions, and some protection for people near retirement. At approximately the same time the universities employers association offered to restart negotiations over USS. However, the changes to USS were already unilaterally imposed last Autumn and the new negotiations offered were for reviews of two specific areas that have been changed. Firstly, new entrants to USS are now placed in a different scheme than current members; current members have a "final salary" pensions where what they get in retirement is proportional to their final salary, new members have a "career averaged" (CARE) pension, which is proportional to a weighted (and inflation uprated) average of your salary. One review would consider the CARE pension and hopefully ensure that it ends up being no worse than what is offered to people in TPS. The other review would consider the abolition of the right for staff over 55 to take an unreduced pension.

This month a meeting of UCU's national executive committee voted by a margin of 3 to 1 to reject the government's offer over TPS and to continue industrial action in coordination with other teaching unions. The largest school teaching unions the NUT, NUSUWT and EIS have all also rejected the offer.

Which all brings us pretty much up to this week and the special conference for USS. Despite the general consensus that the offer for new entrants in USS is worse than the current offer for new entrants into TPS and the clear decision to keep fighting over those changes, our national negotiators recommended going into the meeting that we accept the offer, suspend action and re-enter negotiations. At the meeting three broad positions were laid out: accept the the negotiators position and suspend all action; return to negotiations but time-limited and whilst continuing our current work-to-rule action; or reject the offer and immediately escalate strike action.

Sadly, the delegates at the meeting voted (66 to 41) for the first of those options, suspending all current industrial action. There were, as slight amelioration, several amendments to that decision however. First, a commitment to 'respond quickly and decisively' with further action 'if the review does not deliver improvements for our members in a timely manner'. Second, that by June of this year we have agreement on an accrual rate no worse than in TPS and full pensions for those made redundant. And thirdly, that Andrew Cubie, who chaired the original negotiations prior to the imposition of the agreement and used his casting vote to force the changes through, despite supposedly being independent of the two sides, should be immediately excluded from the negotiations. (It's not clear at this stage what the result would be if the employers refuse to exclude him - would this lead to further action now? or would we just accept it?)

Personally, I think this is a serious mistake. The reviews will have as much management participation as the original negotiations which forced through these changes, and when the changes are already in place a settlement is really a victory for management - they have no need to negotiate except to stop us taking industrial action, which they have already succeeded in doing. At a time when other unions are taking further coordinated action, when we have momentum by making them offer 'something', on the back of November 30th it seems poor strategy to back down now whilst offered no independent arbitration, no guarantee of any improvement and almost certainty that anything that does come from the reviews will still be worse than what we had to start with, before these changes happened. Come June it will be too late to do anything which substantively disrupts management till the Autumn and there will be no chance to not mark exams (a tactic for which there is evidence from previous disputes of success) till the end of the year.

By suspending action we choose to disarm ourselves for no substantive gain. It baffles me that lay trade union delegates would vote to do that, but that is what they have done.

Comments

Steven.
Feb 2 2012 10:59

This seems to be in line with what the bulk of the unions are doing.

I wonder how much of it is just due to how tied up in the management of national capital the unions are. By which, I mean that the unions have their political wing, the Labour Party. And their hope is that the Labour Party will end up in charge - and of course will have to pay for anything which is agreed now.

Not only that, but as unions basically accept capitalism, they are confined to the realities of national capital. So it's in the interest of national capital for workers' wages and conditions to be cut, to help the UK nationally compete with other nations. So if the unions accept this then they think British business will actually end up better off, which will help protect the jobs of their members.

I've been thinking about this a bit recently, but my thoughts are not yet fully formed. And certainly they don't explain why individual lay representatives (including self-declared "revolutionary socialists") would vote against their own economic interests in such ways, but I think they do help explain the general situation.

What do people think?

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 2 2012 14:39

End of para 4 should read: "abolition of the right for staff over 55 made redundant, to take an unreduced pension."

We asked our members to take action in order to bring the employers to the table. Once that had been offered by employers, we'd achieved our aims and members decided that we should go into talks.

We're not in UCU to advance the SWP fantasies of world socialism. We're in UCU to secure the best deal we can for the ordinary members of the union.

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 2 2012 15:08

Steven,

On the point of hoping Labour get back into power:

Brown fell for his own "end to boom & bust" rhetoric and failed to recognise an obvious credit bubble moving into a blowoff phase by the day Labour came to power. The rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party were too ignorant of financial history to disabuse Brown of this, and Brown was well-known to be vengeful towards critics should any have dared to do so. Then Brown and Greenspan cut rates to near-zero in the Dotcom Crash of 2000, preventing a much-needed recession from righting some of the malinvestment from the bubble. At that juncture the stage was set for a later and much worse debt-deflationary crash - the fate of all credit bubbles permitted to run to completion.

Short form: Labour are too ignorant to be put at the helm of anything larger than a tricycle, and even then would require adult supervision.

On your second point: we're still as a country running up extra public debt at the rate of 127 billion Pounds per annum. That has to be stopped and reversed whoever is in power over the next 10-20 years. It's not in anyone's interest to run up public debt to the point we join Greece in the gutter.

Since the general public have thankfully seen the light and have begun paying down personal debt, the only source of growth for the medium term will be exports. Export growth will be hard to achieve when damn near every other country of significance except Germany is also in a debt-deflation.

Short-form: We have a choice: a two year depression (which could be initiated by pulling the plug on the zombie banks), or the 20-year scenic route of debt-deflation which Japan took as Pathfinder when its own credit bubble burst in 1989. There's no pleasant option unless we invent time-travel.

As for how we voted on Tuesday: that's how the members wanted us to vote. The USS pension changes have been imposed. It's now about negotiating how much we can roll them back. The employers wouldn't completely reverse those changes even if everyone joins UCU this afternoon and announces an indefinite strike. It'd just cost them too much to do so.

Short form: Our economic interest lies in getting what we can, not fantasising about what we can't. The majority of ordinary members seem to be smart enough to understand that, albeit to the chagrin of those "activists" who imagine this is about bringing down The Coallition.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 2 2012 17:26

Mate, you need to do your research if you think you're dealing with the SWP here or anyone who's sympathetic to them. Likewise, you're also mistaken if you think "bringing down the coalition" factors into the political or economic actions most posters on this site take.

Although (and by the way you speak I assume you're a union official) you've proved Steven's point about trade unions accepting the logic of capital and participating in managing workers in the interest of global capitalism.

Steven.
Feb 2 2012 17:40
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Mate, you need to do your research if you think you're dealing with the SWP here or anyone who's sympathetic to them. Likewise, you're also mistaken if you think "bringing down the coalition" factors into the political or economic actions most posters on this site take.

Although (and by the way you speak I assume you're a union official) you've proved Steven's point about trade unions accepting the logic of capital and participating in managing workers in the interest of global capitalism.

Yeah, although to clarify it shows he is accepting the logic of national capital, i.e. the need for Britain to compete in the world market.

We on the other hand instead of this nationalist view take an internationalist approach - that we should fight any reduction in our living standards, and that we should also support the struggles of workers in every other country to defend and improve their conditions. Thus helping prevent the race to the bottom which results from this kind of nationalist "pragmatic" politics.

But yes, it's quite good to see that confirmation of my hypothesis, and so quickly as well!

The person above also seems to have bought the lies about the deficit being an inherent problem in itself, and seems ignorant of the fact that the deficit is not historically high by any means.

fingers malone
Feb 2 2012 18:20

That's just the USS one that is suspended, right, the TPS one is still on?

Steven.
Feb 2 2012 18:27
fingers malone wrote:
That's just the USS one that is suspended, right, the TPS one is still on?

I believe so, yes.

On a related note, I think this is a good example of why One Big Unionism is pointless. Even individual unions still divide up different groups of workers in their own membership, so having all workers join one union wouldn't unite them any more.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 2 2012 21:31

Hmmmm....I guess that'd be the difference between the OBU in the abstract and the One Big trade Union.

Also, fuck the deficit whether it's historically high or not, that shit's still only an issue for capital. We fight for our interests regardless. Not that that was your point and the point you made--that's it's not actually historically high--is still an important one.

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 10:01

In fact I'm an anarchocapitalist and proud of it. That said though, freedom of speech issues apart, I keep my personal politics and my union work separate. I only wish others would do the same and STFU about Israel, Palestine, and other issues which have nothing to do with our members' conditions and pay.

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 10:11

Steven figures: "The person above also seems to have bought the lies about the deficit being an inherent problem in itself, and seems ignorant of the fact that the deficit is not historically high by any means. "

I'm probably more obsessed by financial history than anyone you'll ever meet. I agree that the level of the deficit isn't maxed-out on a historical basis (though I think it unfair to make comparisons of peacetime with a war in which the fate of the country was in doubt). It's the rate we're adding to it which needs to be fixed, and then reversed.

There is of course also the issue of who owns the debt. The Italians have debt of 120% of GDP and the Japanese 200% (and counting) of GDP. However both countries largely own their own debt and so aren't as subject to a financial spanking from the bond vigilantes (and yes, I'm a fan) as are countries which are externally funded.

We Brits haven't proven very good at saving in general during the latest credit cycle, and have proven more susceptible than most to the housing madness during the bubble (as in two thirds of the population participating and a large fraction of GDP going into mortgage debt).

We're therefore more vulnerable than we have been in the past given the level of debt. If we don't look like we'll get the recurrent deficit under control, the bond vigilantes will sooner or later punish us with higher interest rates, and deservedly so.

soc
Feb 3 2012 10:25
Quote:
In fact I'm an anarchocapitalist and proud of it.

Good for you! But why are you worry about then about sovereign debt?

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 13:27

Soc: "Good for you! But why are you worry about then about sovereign debt?"

Realism: Libertaria won't arrive in my lifetime, and I have doubts about whether it will arrive in the lifetime of this universe.

radicalgraffiti
Feb 3 2012 13:50
A Friend of Fernando Poo wrote:
In fact I'm an anarchocapitalist and proud of it.

i guess im not the only one who reads that as "In fact I'm an lunatic and proud of it."

A Friend of Fernando Poo wrote:
I keep my personal politics and my union work separate.

Thats clearly a lie

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 14:25

Radicalgraffitti asserts: "Thats clearly a lie"

That's a bold claim. Want to back it up with anything other than bullshit?

radicalgraffiti
Feb 3 2012 14:27

see your posts (although that may count as bullshit)

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 14:28

BTW Rad: That would be "a lunatic" rather than "an lunatic".

Let's at least try to get our gratuitous insults grammatically correct.

radicalgraffiti
Feb 3 2012 14:42

its insulting that you pretend to be an anarchist

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 15:34

Rad, nothing in my posts, other than the specific exclusion of FoS issues, indicates that I mix my union work with my personal views.

As it happens, I've voted precisely once as a union delegate, and I voted the way that 80% of our members wanted me to vote when the branch consulted them.

When voting purely as an ordinary member of course (which is separate from my duties as an officer), I am much more likely to choose candidates who fit with my views. I have an algorithm for rating election statements: at each mention of words or phrases such as "UCU Left", "Marketisation", "Privatisation", "neo-liberal" and so on, I deduct one point (two points are deducted for "socialism"). Then I vote for the candidate with the least negative score.

What's interesting is that this algorithm generally produces a slate very close to that of a "moderates" group within UCU. By their words shall ye know them, as it were. I've now managed to persuade others to use this algorithm. My suspicion is that certain candidates use such words and phrases to signal their allegiance to certain groups within UCU, and therefore this method is likely to remain effective in weeding out such candidates.

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 15:36

Rad "its insulting that you pretend to be an anarchist "

Let me assure you that few would be happier than I were all the politicians on the planet to vanish tomorrow.

tastybrain
Feb 3 2012 15:46
A Friend of Fernando Poo wrote:
Rad "its insulting that you pretend to be an anarchist "

Let me assure you that few would be happier than I were all the politicians on the planet to vanish tomorrow.

Few would be happier than I were all capitalist labor bureaucrats to vanish tomorrow.

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 16:28

If there's anyone else in UCU who's a capitalist, they certainly haven't told me. I suspect most of my colleagues are fairly content with the semi-socialist mixed economy we have. If I comment that I'd privatise all the universities this afternoon if I could, they roll their eyes and put it down to personal eccentricity. They can do this because capitalists are very rare. Socialists on the other hand are numerous enough to do actual harm, and so they're much more wary of those.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 3 2012 17:07
A Friend of Fernando Poo wrote:
Rad "its insulting that you pretend to be an anarchist "

Let me assure you that few would be happier than I were all the politicians on the planet to vanish tomorrow.

And this demonstrates--with impressive effectiveness I must say--just how little you understand about anarchism.

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 17:31

Anarchy: The term anarchism derives from the Greek ἄναρχος, anarchos, meaning "without rulers"

QEFD.

An Affirming Flame
Feb 3 2012 17:37

Yeah, and you want to continue to be ruled by capitalists, you'd just like to cut out the middle men (politicians). Hence, you're not an anarchist and it is insulting that you go around pretending you are.

A Friend of Fer...
Feb 3 2012 18:06

You'd be amazed how often I have to explain that anarchy is the absence of leaders, not the absence of law.

Now, as I've said, I'm a libertarian. The basic principle of libertarianism is that arrangements between people should be voluntary and no mediated by force or threats of force (though force is fine in defence of self, others, or property - we're not usually pacifists.

Now a few interesting things fall out of that basic principle. One is that involuntary taxation is the equivalent of a mugging (taxes are extorted by threat of kidnap and imprisonment, or actual violence and possibly death if resistance to the kidnap is escalated - See P.J.O'Rourke's "Would you shoot your granny for this?" test).

Thus a mixed-economy state such as we currently have here is hard to sustain in any way consistent with the principle (I do realise that some communalist style states would still be feasible and indeed there are libertarians who are somewhat to the left of me politically speaking).

So folks have to get along voluntarily. Want a new Forth bridge? Put into the hat then, or wait for a company (that being strictly a voluntary organisation of like-minded souls) to build one and charge a toll.

It also kinda leads to folks contracting with each other to get actual business done. Hence the frequent claim that an anarchocapitalist Libertaria would be paradise for lawyers.

But yeah, if they were shorn of any limited liability protections, and they of course had no politicians to buy to get special protections, and we had personal weaponry to protect us should they overstep the bounds of politeness, I'd far rather get stuff done by companies than by governments.

The crucial element is being able to unsubscribe if you don't want their services any more. The fact that you can't do that with governments is what makes the politicians rulers, and Coca-Cola not.

tastybrain
Feb 3 2012 18:30
A Friend of Fernando Poo wrote:
The fact that you can't do that with governments is what makes the politicians rulers, and Coca-Cola not.

Yeah tell that to the union leaders and organizers Coke had murdered.

You are truly ignorant if you think corporations can't be just as murderous, tyrannical, and oppressive as the state.

tastybrain
Feb 3 2012 18:27

No wonder UCU is shitty with ballbags like this in positions of authority.

tastybrain
Feb 3 2012 18:29
A Friend of Fernando Poo wrote:
Anarchy: The term anarchism derives from the Greek ἄναρχος, anarchos, meaning "without rulers"

QEFD.

You have failed to comprehend Chilli's comment. Anarchy does indeed mean without rulers. Chilli was pointing out that your conception of rulers and hierarchy is pretty stunted (and therefore you don't understand anarchism) since you are focused only on "politicians" and not on the fatcats who are in charge of production. Anarchists are against ALL rulers, not just the ones with positions in the government.

jonthom
Feb 3 2012 19:53
A Friend of Fernando Poo wrote:
The crucial element is being able to unsubscribe if you don't want their services any more. The fact that you can't do that with governments is what makes the politicians rulers, and Coca-Cola not.

Sure you can - by moving to another country. But whatever country you move to you'll be ruled by someone. In the same way, while folks may have the "freedom" to choose which employer to be exploited by (and which companies to rely on for food, communication, etc.), we're still forced to sell our labour in order to survive, making that "freedom" rather hollow to say the least.

"Ancaps" often (at least in my thankfully limited experience) seem to be under the impression that anarchism is about opposition to the state and literally nothing else, despite the fact even a brief look at the history of the anarchist movement would show otherwise. It gets rather tiresome really.

Question: why is it, do you think, that the overwhelming majority of those who describe themselves as anarchists are anti-capitalists?

Railyon
Feb 3 2012 22:55