UCU members striking to fight pension cuts in 2018, photo Gary Freeman

UCU members striking to fight pension cuts in 2018, photo Gary Freeman   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Bea Gardner, Socialist Party member in UCU

University bosses have pushed through their proposal to impose severe pension cuts to those in the ‘USS’ pension. At a meeting of the USS joint negotiating committee, the employers, represented by Universities UK (UUK), voted through their cuts with the support of the USS trustees and the independent chair.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), has signified that the union is ready to embark on sustained industrial action in defence of members’ pensions, telling members that strike action is now “inevitable”. The leadership must now back up its words with deeds by allocating resources for the dispute, and building confidence that the leadership is prepared to see the struggle through.

UUK, which represents the vice-chancellors of universities in the USS, proposed the cuts to make sure workers in the scheme pay the cost of the deficit projected by the 2020 USS valuation. Under the bosses’ proposals, the ‘typical member’ will suffer a 35% loss to their guaranteed retirement benefits, including their lump sum and yearly pension. Younger workers in the scheme will fare much worse than this.

The 2020 valuation date of 31 March 2020 has been widely criticised as it fell right at the start of the pandemic when the economic forecast was extremely unstable. USS assets have increased by £20 billion in the last few years, now valued at £80 billion, and the fund continues to grow, with contributions exceeding pensions. For example, in 2020, contributions exceeded funds paid out by 37%.

The union must fight this vicious attack, where the economic uncertainty of the pandemic is being used to slash members’ benefits. Alongside fighting these latest attacks, a long-term solution is needed to resolve the persistent issues of flawed valuations, and mismanagement of members pensions.

The Socialist Party calls for the pension scheme to be run under the democratic control and management of the workers in it. That would end what has been a perpetual fight to defend USS from bosses’ attacks, and would secure our pensions well into the future.

The next steps for the dispute will be formally voted on at an online special higher education sector conference on 9 September.

They will be ratified by a later meeting of the higher education committee.