Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/551/6472
University workers fight pension attacks
Sussex University Unite members protest against attacks on their pensions, photo Peter Knight
University of Sussex management should have known better than to attack the pensions of some of the lowest paid workers on campus. With plans to close the current in-house scheme for new clerical and support staff, Unite trade union members have voted in force to take strike action and to begin the fight back.
With the new term just one week old, nearly 100 workers, lecturers and students gathered on 2 October for a rally to declare the industrial action and to protest at these pension changes. The strength of solidarity and unity from all areas of the university community offers formidable potential in forcing management into retreat.
Socialist Students at the universities of Sussex and Brighton helped to spread the word and build support for the workers at the universities.
After years of systematically running down the scheme with contribution 'holidays', bosses now want to close the in-house pension scheme and offer a defined contribution plan, increase the retirement age and increase employee contributions for all new members.
Around 70% of Unite members voted to support strike action, while 83% voted to support action short of a strike. The first strike day will be on 10 October, with further strikes - if necessary - on the following three Fridays. The branch officers are also discussing action short of a strike for other dates including the university open day on 11 October.
Speaking at the rally, Steve Guy, Unite TGWU senior steward at Gatwick airport, offered solidarity from workers at the airport who successfully forced management into retreat over similar planned changes to their pension scheme. Steve also pointed out that solidarity was crucial to winning this dispute.
Jim Guild, UCU member at the University of Sussex, demanded that management should "look at the chancellor's own pension provisions if they are looking to save money, rather than attack those on the lowest rates of pay." Jim also reminded everyone that "pensions are our deferred pay and that any cut in our pension is a cut in our pay."
The loudest cheers were saved for Laura Tazzioli, University of Sussex Students' Union President, who offered the support of every student at the university. Laura said: "Students are the workers of tomorrow so all of us should support the workers of today."
In The Socialist 8 October 2008:
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