Many of our friends and colleagues in UCU have been on strike over the past four weeks to defend their USS pensions. They have asked me to extend their immense gratitude to UNISON for all the support they have received from us.
I was asked two questions yesterday about our support for the strike. Please see the answers below.
How have UNISON members been supporting our colleagues on strike?
Over the past few weeks, UNISON members have provided hot meals to our colleagues on the picket lines, including soup and sandwiches, curries, and goulash and dumplings! We have made collective and individual donations to the Bath UCU strike hardship fund to support our colleagues who have now lost 14 days of pay.
Many of you have been down to the picket lines with cups of tea and coffee, come to the daily ‘teach outs’ in town, signed and shared the petition for funding of mental health services, joined the demonstration on campus this week and visited our students who are still occupying the senior management corridor in support of better treatment for their staff. Some of you have refused to cross picket lines, others have fully joined the strike and many have taken the time to contact colleagues to give them moral support and ask how they can help.
If you haven’t had a chance to show your support yet, it’s not too late! Come down to the picket lines today, make a donation to the strike hardship fund, contact a colleague next week to let them know you care about and support them.
Why have UNISON members been supporting our colleagues on strike?
As David C. Coates said, “an injury to one is an injury to all.” But more specifically, there are four reasons:
Firstly, dozens of UNISON members are in the USS pension scheme. Our colleagues on strike are fighting to save the pensions of our own members. It is not only right that we thank and support them, but also plain common sense – your support has meant a lot to our colleagues and has given them energy to keep on fighting. If the dispute is not resolved soon, UNISON may officially join the strike action.
Secondly, if the USS pension scheme is destroyed by our employers, they will be looking at LGPS pensions next. If our colleagues in USS save their pensions, it is more likely that those of us in LGPS can save ours. And if we do need to fight to protect ours, we cannot really expect the support of our colleagues in USS if we didn’t support them when they needed us.
Thirdly, this strike action has been about more than pensions. It is about dignity and respect. In recent years we have all seen our pay falling while senior managers have enriched themselves. Our workloads have increased, as have stress and associated mental health problems, and our job security has worsened. We are constantly restructured, reorganised and the voice of staff is all too often ignored.
This strike has been the biggest and strongest in UK Higher Education history because staff are finally drawing a line in the sand and saying “enough is enough, no more”. If this strike is successful, we are more likely to improve our pay and conditions now, as well as our security in retirement.
Finally, the strike has created a sense of community that did not exist here a month ago. Last week, students occupying 4 West held a session to save the Weekend Working Supplement and demand a Living Wage for UNISON members on Grade 2. This would not have happened if it were not for the strike. These shared campaigns, with support from staff and students across campus, give us incredible strength and benefit us all.
Through the strike, new connections and friendships have been made, and there is now a new found collective belief that we can and must demand better working conditions for ourselves and our students. Last year we were reminded that when we work together, staff and students can control their universities. This strike has been the first opportunity to put that lesson into action.
UNISON at the University of Bath