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Members’ open letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor, 16 March 2018

Dear Sir Christopher

USS dispute

We are writing to you, at the end of our fourth week of dispute, to ask you to take specific actions to help bring the dispute to an end, and to ameliorate the effects of the dispute on your staff.

On 13 March, the proposal mediated by ACAS was comprehensively rejected by the UCU HEC for the following reasons:

  • while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so with too great a reduction in the maximum pensionable salary;
  • the proposed reduction in accrual rate was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme members.

There was also considerable concern over the CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit.

Members rejected a solution to ‘the current valuation of the pension scheme’ in light of their continuing concerns about lack of the transparency surrounding this valuation, concerns which are currently the subject of unanswered public letters to Alastair Jarvis from UUK employers, including one by the Master of Churchill College, Cambridge, Prof Athene Donald.

Members were also concerned about teaching staff across universities being encouraged to reschedule teaching missed due to strike action, while also losing pay for the days they were striking, when it was by no means clear that the facility, time, or space necessary to do so would be available.

In addition, there is now mounting concern that the process by which the current valuation was achieved may conflict with The Pension Regulator’s Code of Practice, which states that ‘Trustees and employers should work together in an open and transparent manner to reach funding solutions that strike the right balance between the needs of the scheme and those of the employer’.

However, on 14 March, the Pensions Regulator stated that it would welcome any new ‘joint plan’ put to it which is ‘supported by evidence to demonstrate that it is sustainable’. UUK has now said that it is “planning more talks with UCU to end pensions dispute”, and the consultation on the proposals decided at the 23 January JNC has been suspended. We hope and believe that this opens a new opportunity for UUK to work with UCU to reach an agreed solution.

In light of these developments, we ask you to follow the example of the Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University in publicly stating your support for recommencing ‘negotiations without preconditions’.

We also ask you to follow the example of the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge and use your position to lobby UUK to negotiate on members’ concerns on matters such as inflation protection, accrual rate, DB cap, and the reference to the rescheduling of teaching.

We believe this is now the only way to proceed, with the pragmatism and realism that you have previously called for, in order to obtain an offer that addresses the concerns of UCU members and that achieves our shared aim of putting the scheme on a sustainable footing for the future.

Finally, we recognise that, in response to members’ protestations about this University’s initial stance on punitive deductions for working to contract (ASOS) — a policy that would have disproportionately harmed teaching-only and hourly paid staff — the University changed its position on this issue. This change of position makes a real difference to our members. We ask you now, in continued recognition of the difficult financial situation faced by our lowest paid, part-time and hourly-paid members in particular, to consider following the lead of universities such as Leicester and Loughborough in agreeing to spread strike deductions over four months or more.

We look forward to your response

Yours sincerely

Southampton UCU branch executive, on behalf of our members

Cc:      Dr Gill Rider, Chair of Council


How digital communication transformed activism

This blog was written following a teach-out facilitated by the author.

For the ongoing USS-Strike to defend our pensions, digital communication on e-mail and social media have played a tremendous role. In fact, in contemporary society it seems almost unthinkable that social movements were able to mobilise protest events without access to the internet. It seems useful to appraise how activism has changed since the advent of social media.

I begin by reviewing some of the main tasks of social movements. First, social movements are engaged in framing processes: they need to convince people that there is a problem and what the problem is, who is responsible for the problem and what should be done about it. In the case of the the current dispute, the problems are the proposed changes to pensions and the way the pensions are regulated.  UUK and The Pension Regulator are responsible. One tactic is strike action.

Second, social movements need to mobilise resources including people (supporters, activists, and leaders), access to meeting spaces, media and money and enlist support from the wider public, decision makers such as politicians, and experts. In the context of the USS strike, this requires mobilizing members to come to the picket lines.

Finally, social movements need to make decisions about tactics and strategies as well as about their organisational structures and decision making. For the strike for USS that includes decisions to continue or to suspend the strike, and the pursuit of alternative and/or additional tactics.

Digital communication and social media have made some of these tasks much easier, but have made others more complicated. It is possible to distinguish internet-supported and internet-based repertoires of action. Internet-supported actions are a continuity of previous forms of mobilisation – instead of handing out leaflets or contacting people via a telephone-tree cascade system, meetings or protest events are announced via websites, on e-mail or via social media. There is no offline equivalent for a hashtag-campaign on social media – this is an example of new internet-based activism.

So how are online- and offline activism related? Some are concerned that online activism decreases the involvement in offline activism and leads to slacktivism or clicktivism. However, others believe that digital prefigurative participation or engaging with an issue online through social media leads to participation in offline protest events. Collective action is based on collective identity (for example, as trade unionists) and organisational structures (for example, the UCU branch), but digitally-enabled activism can  produce connective action which is networked and may not be tied to collective identities, organisational structures and leaders. In the current dispute we can see that hybrid forms of action exist.

In her book, Twitter and Teargas Zeynep Tufekci brilliantly analyses the ‘power and fragility of networked protest’. The power might be quite obvious. When social movements are ignored by the mass media (see for example the lack of mainstream press coverage of the USS-strike) or are censored, digital communication allows the spread of information and can enable citizen journalism.

In 1999, Indymedia was created by independent journalists and activists in the context of the WTO protests in Seattle. Although the website still exists nearly twenty years later, including regional sites in many languages, today Indymedia is hardly known. It has been replaced by the behemoths Twitter and Facebook on which citizen journalism as well as fake news are disseminated. We also see that mass media and social media are not mutually exclusive;  articles and broadcast news media are frequently posted on social media. In addition, not everyone’s tweet or post gets shared, some have far more influence in the digital public sphere than others. Communication on social media raises important questions of verification, and representativeness.

Tufekci also discusses the impact of digital communication on the leadership, logistics and infrastructure of social movements. New communication technologies allow the kinds of quick dissemination which made the occupation of Gezi Park, Tahir Square and the Occupy camps possible. In contrast, the American civil rights movement required meticulous and lengthy organising over long time-periods. Slow dissemination allowed for capacity building over a longer time-period which created space for extensive discussions outside the public eye – for example concerning tactical shifts, and social movement organisations had a central role in providing an infrastructure for the decision making processes and dealing with dissent and conflict arising from these debates.

In contrast, Tufekci demonstrates how digitally mobilised movements can experience a ‘tactical freeze’ due to the lack of decision-making structures. Connective action is less well placed to deal with disagreement and building trust. Debates are played out publically, and while open debate might be welcome, it can be dominated by a few, prominent, but not necessarily representative voices. Moreover, discussing tactics openly  can signal to opponents where the breaking points in the movement are.

The USS strike has undoubtedly benefited from the existence of social media. While we stood in cold, snow and rain, it was inspiring to know that the picket lines were strong at Universities across the country. Moreover, social media enabled activists to crowd-source information about management practices at the institutions involved in the dispute, and to share information to support the protest. Petitions were circulated and signed, universities were named and shamed. Activists skilfully employed not just open digital spaces but also closed spaces which allowed for strategizing outside the public attention.

One important feature of social media use was the mobilisation of humour to support the strike.  Our own #DinosaurOfSolidarity (@of_dinosaur) has quickly gained 1950 followers (and counting) for example. But social media has also carried serious messages. The outcome of UCU/UUK consultations immediately resulted in the hashtag #NoCapitulation which perhaps influenced the swift rejection of this offer.

The question is – what next? How can we prevent a ‘tactical freeze’? It is clear that offline and online activism are intertwined and that the affordances of digital communication are invaluable. We need to consider whether the velocity of digital communication undermines careful strategic decision-making. And how online and offline resources can be used to ensure democratic and inclusive debate. Some things might not be best discussed online, and we may need to learn a ‘digital hygiene’ i.e. knowing when and what to tweet. However we move forward it is clear that movement building in digital times requires solidarity and respect.

Silke Roth is a sociologist @SilkeRoth

Interview with a Dinosaur

Today, the Dinosaur of Solidarity met with SUSU’s Arun Aggarwal, the VP Student Communities, and gave him an exclusive interview.  Below is an edited transcript, but for the full dinotastic experience (including Dinah throwing some rawrsome shapes), you can catch up with the full interview on video.

  1. What does a Dinosaur of Solidarity do?

I see my role primarily as drawing large scale attention to the attack on staff pensions.  I am quite large and I have been told I am a bit shouty. Basically I want staff here to have the decent pension they were promised.  Universities UK and some VCs of our Universities want to replace our defined benefit pension with an inferior defined contribution scheme that represents a 10-40% cut in deferred salary. My slogan is don’t let the pension go extinct.


  1. So what is a typical day for you on strike

I get up and eat some porridge – I need the slow release energy throughout the day because being a Dinosaur of Solidarity burns the calories. I then join a local picket at Highfield or Avenue or SGH. I do a bit of shouting.  Sometimes if the pickets re really good I do my special Dino picket for pension dance.  I’ve been working on it at the weekend.  Then I have some lunch – usually a salad – and I go to one of our teach outs. This week we have protest song writing with the Music Department – on Thursday – looking forward to that


  1. What are the parts of your role that are most directly relevant to students at the University of Southampton

I love students. I couldn’t eat a whole one because I am vegetarian now.  But I want them to get the best education they can. Demoralised devalued staff who have suffered real term pay cuts, casualization, increasing workloads and now this cut to our pension cannot deliver excellent education.  Students here have been Dino-tastic in their support of this strike action – they understand that their staff need a decent pension.


  1. I’d like to know about your time as a student, what do you miss ?

I was a student a long time ago. Can’t say how long ago it was cos then you’d work out how old I am, and a dinosaur never tells. But if I say first Ice Age you’ll have an idea. I studied when you didn’t have to pay – there were no student fees or those horrible student loans.  That’s another thing that makes me angry – a bunch of people who got free higher education have stolen it from a generation. Grrr.

There were polytechnics back then.  I went to one of those. It was great. I loved it. I often say it transformed my life.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without those awesome teachers.  I miss the days before fees when people from all walks of life could do education without paying.

  1. Were there any student union clubs or societies you joined?

Well obviously archaeology club. Love a bit of digging up ancestors, that kind of thing. And the choir. I love a sing.

  1. Southampton offers a broad range off degrees if you could start now what would it be?

Oh that’s a tough one. I’m a bit of a polymath. I like so many things. I like to stretch myself.  I suppose I’d like to learn finance and accounting and maybe do an MBA so that I could help the poor leadership of Universities UK, you know help them get their sums about the pension right.

I like to stretch myself and I don’t let my small brain or short arms hold me back so if I’mhonest what I’d really like to do is learn to knit.  I was hoping I could do that when I retired but I am not sure I can afford the wool if we don’t get the pension back.

  1. One last question before I let you go back to the strike – what are your hobbies?

I mostly like reading with my family and resting after a hard day working at the University. If I haven’t got marking or stuff to do.  I’ve go a big family so mostly I like reading. I like those Dinobird books – reading to the little dinos. They’ve learn lots of new words like ‘anti trade union legislation’ ‘expenses’ and ‘Pornstar Martinis’ from those books.

Another Monday. Another strike day.

If you are a recent UCU joiner, you are one of the 30% of new members we have welcomed since the action began – hello, and nice to meet you. Please come and introduce yourself, and join us on the picket lines!

This is day 10 of the longest, most sustained higher education strike I can remember and I have been in UCU (and before, its predecessor. AUT) for nearly 30 years.

I don’t know about you but I am exhausted and desperate to go back to work. It is draining being on the picket line, despite the collegiality and the strong sense of shared purpose.  The teach-outs have shown how wonderful teaching and learning can be, but they also remind us that this is where we want to be, doing education.  For others, research deadlines loom, and projects are being damaged. And our academic-related colleagues have had to watch as processes, systems and projects they have nurtured and developed begin to unravel.

ASOS has been an eye opener, too – we all knew we took home work and did extra on top of our contracted hours, but being asked to work your hours really brings that into focus – as have the messages from senior managers telling us to prioritise two-thirds of our workloads on non-strike days. In other words, the SMT appear to have conceded that we are overloaded.

It has been salutary to engage with our students about the value of education, about bigger issues such as fees and loans and VCs pay, and to talk about the damage that marketization has wrought on our once world-leading University system.  It has been wonderful to have their support – individually, and via SUSU – despite the fact that the impact of the strike is felt first by them.

We have achieved a lot, but we are not at the finish line.  UUK reluctantly agreed to talk at ACAS. The debate about our pensions has been broadened. We have significant public and political support.  The evidence base from which to challenge UUK decision making is larger and stronger. There are signs that UUK may be beginning to listen.


We have to be aware that all the way through this dispute a handful of powerful VCs and some hardliners in UUK have pushed to destroy our pension and break the promises we were made. Our own VC has chosen not to align with those who are calling for an alternative proposal that would preserve defined benefits. He has not publically distanced himself from the questionable data about the scheme, or the dubious decision-making processes that we have discovered are at the heart of these damaging pension proposals.  Other universities’ SMTs are finding ways to reduce the impact of the strike on their most precarious staff, but we have been told that we are the authors of our own misfortune, and that we should “reflect” on the harm we’ve done (to the students who are supporting us day in, day out).

We have to maintain the pressure by continuing to strike this week.  If UUK sense that our resolve has been weakened by their delaying tactics they will not up their offer.  Our UCU negotiators will fight for the best deal we can achieve, but they can only do that if they can point to our strike action.  For that reason we are asking you once again to join us on the picket lines, to refuse to work and to maintain the strike.

There will be pickets on campuses from 8am each day. If you have not signed up to a rota slot, please call in at the office at 47 University Road and we will deploy you to a picket line.

We have also arranged teach-outs again this week:  here’s the schedule:


Mon 12 March


SUSU meeting room 2

Level 1 B42

An audience with the Dinosaur of Solidarity – tbc
Tues 13 March



SUSU meeting room 2                       Level 1 B42 What is education for?  An open discussion – Lucy Watson

In an age of increasing student debt where ’employability’ has become the benchmark for the success of a programme, students are finding themselves in the difficult position of having to decide what courses deliver the best ‘value for money’. This session will focus on the recent marketization of HE and explore some of its intentional and unintentional results.

Weds 14 March



Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Broadlands Rd, nr Brewed Awakening How have digital technologies and social media changed activism? – Silke Roth

In this teach-out we look at the relationship between online and offline activism. We look at online media as a game changer and have a look at the affordances of social media, at repertoires of digital activism and the fragility of networked action. We will consider slacktivism and how ‘digital prefigurative action’ can lead to the participation in offline protest events.

Thurs 15 March


Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Broadlands Rd, nr Brewed Awakening Music Workshop

“WA Mozart, Casual Employee?” – Tom Irvine

“The Arts, the War on the Welfare State and the end of Keynsian Economics” – Andrew Pinnock

“How to Improvise a Protest Song” (with audience participation) – Andy Fisher


Fri 16 March 2-4pm Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Broadlands Rd, nr Brewed Awakening Workshop: The ethics of taking strike action: principles, consequences and care
Taking strike action entails struggling with competing duties and responsibilities, thinking through and articulating why one principle trumps another, calculating the short and long terms costs and benefits, and taking practical actions with other people. This interactive workshop will offer an opportunity to explore these ideas and introduce concepts to build on over the coming weeks and months, as we reflect on what a university is and what being an academic and professional in higher education means to each of us.

We know many of you are worried about the financial impact of the strike – we have a local hardship fund in addition to the national strike pay so we will do our best to mitigate this, prioritising our lowest paid colleagues and those in casualised, precarious posts.

If you wish to donate to the fund the details are:

UCU Southampton 71 Hardship Fund
Account number: 20391537
Sort code: 60-83-01

This message has been posted on our blog but also sent to the all members email list as we know that some people are reading their accounts. if you are reading your work email please, please do not work while the strike is on.  If there is a meaningful proposal from UUK the action will be suspended, but we really must keep up the pressure or our efforts since 22 February will be in vain.

I know that you are fed up with striking and with ASOS. I know you are angry with UUK, with our University governance and our senior managers – rightly so, for they have all contributed to this situation. I know you are tired of striking.

I want to remind you that we are the University. UUK, the VC, the senior managers, the lay members of Council, are not the University. They do not do the things that you do to keep higher education and research going at this University.  We are standing together – with our students – and we are saying no to the broken promises about our pension.

I’d like to end by saying that while this message will be signed by me, your branch VP, this action to defend pensions here is the work of an inspirational collective.  Members of UCU at Southampton have the most brilliant branch executive.  I cannot tell you how grateful I have been to them over the past month. They have pulled together; we have supported each other and our members, and collectively responded to all manner of issues ranging from last minute requests from management for a detailed risk assessments for our joint union rally, to managing picket lines through some of the worst weather we have ever had in this city, to crafting petitions and open letters to try to influence the debate locally and nationally.  We may be tired but we are also blessed. I am hopeful that we will win. We just have to stay strong, stand together and hold the strike a little longer.

See you on the picket lines.

Catherine Pope
Vice-President, Southampton UCU

Gold for Southampton Strikers

We haven’t really had much time for following the Winter Olympics. It turns out striking requires a lot of effort and takes considerable time. It has been pretty cold out on the pickets for the past two days but perhaps that’s why our eye was drawn to the news that Billy Morgan from Southampton had won a bronze medal in snowboarding.  Morgan said:

 I pushed all the fear to the side on that last jump. I was like ‘even if I completely wreck myself it doesn’t matter, I’m going to go and do it’.

We hope that strike action is not quite as terrifying as snowboarding in the Olympics, but we know that it takes courage. (It also helps to have handwarmers – supplied last week by our comrades in Unison, for which we were most grateful.)

We had a great response to our call for picket line volunteers and UCU members stood outside several buildings at Highfield and there was a huge turnout at Avenue and SGH too. We received some welcome press attention  and on and Friday one of our student supporters was able to address a picket ‘huddle’ of about 150 people before the senior management asked us to ‘move along’.

The pickets are perhaps the most visible part of the action – but lots more has been happening as part of our action to defend a decent pension for all staff. Here are a few edited highlights – do follow our Facebook and Twitter feeds for regular updates.

UUK arguments shredded

Alongside the various analyses offered by independent actuaries some of the country’s top academics have waded into the debate about pension reform.  Prominent amongst these are the damning counter arguments rebutting the UUK position offered by David Speigelhalter et al.

Their key points are:

  1. The USS provides insufficient information about the methods used to value its assets and liabilities.
  2. UUK proposals assume a fall in the expected long-term nominal investment return from 4.7% to 2.8%. – despite evidence that equity markets in high income countries have increased by 11% per year
  3. They assumed cumulative pay growth of 16% over 4 years yet recent general pay increases have fallen well short of this, cumulatively increasing by just 5.8%.
  4. They say life expectancy is increasing by 1.5% per year when the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries estimates suggest life expectancy is lower.

Their letter concludes

If the USS and Mercer reports were statistical, medical, or economics papers, diligent editors would reject them out of hand. Why do we apply lower standards to an institution entrusted with £60bn of investments to provide for our retirement, than for our academic research? There appears to be a real risk the USS could be wound up because of these analyses. There may be a sizeable deficit, but on the basis of the evidence that the USS has presented, it is impossible to judge.

This week it was also revealed that the push to move to defined contribution was in part enabled by the extra votes afforded to Oxbridge colleges – while we were forced to run a democratic process for our strike action it seems UUK decision making was distorted by a medieval power base. Mike Otsuka’s diligent pursuit of a Freedom of Information request has led to an estimate that about 16 Oxbridge colleges were counted in the survey of employers, on top of individual votes by Oxford and Cambridge universities themselves.  We are forced to conclude that the hardline position, taken by our own VC and this handful of the UK’s wealthiest universities is partisan and untrustworthy.

Every day it is becoming clearer that the arguments put to members of the USS pension scheme by UUK and our employers are at best misguided and at worst duplicitous. UUK and our VC repeatedly tell us there is a deficit when the scheme has assets of £60bn and new members joining every week. They tell us defined contribution – shifting all the risk onto us – is the best and only possible deal, when it removes our guaranteed pension and represents a cut of £10000 a year from the annual pension of a typical lecturer.

VCs breaking rank but UUK refuse to budge

We’ve been told by UUK that there can be no more talks and no better pension deal. But already we can see the strike is having an impact. Leaders of institutions like Loughborough, Glasgow, Warwick, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Strathclyde, London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine have publically called for a resumption of national talks. The vice-chancellor (VC) of the University of Essex joined them on Monday, and on Thursday, the VC of Newcastle University said he “”absolutely supported staff’s decision to strike”, saying he didn’t know “what else they could do to express their concerns about the current situation.” On Friday we received the momentous news that Cambridge, too, was breaking ranks to call for more talks.

In response to these apparent divisions in their ranks UUK offered talks on Tuesday 27 February. The timing is seen by some a cynical move to test the strikers resolve to continue into a second week.  UCU negotiators will attend but have reluctantly decided not to suspend the strike because UUK have lied about their position.  A leaked email reported in the the Telegraph revealed that UUK has no plans to make changes to the pension offerSally Hunt responded:

Because this is so serious for students and for staff we will of course attend. I am however very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.

Success in Southampton teach-outs

Prof Traute Meyer leads our first Teach-out

It’s the first time we’ve run these, and we’ve had two excellent sessions so far, one  led by Prof Traute Meyer (Sociology and Social Policy) on pensions and risk providing a European and historical analysis based on her research, and one led by Prof John Langley (Chemistry) on time management.  What struck me about these session was the quality of the interactions – students, staff and members of the public freely learning together, debating, and sharing experience – quite different from some of the more heavily monitored ‘educational experiences’ we are forced to offer.  For those of us a faculty who recently introduced a compulsory lesson plan for every contact hour of teaching, it was something of a relief to just participate in education. There are more teach outs this week including our fundraiser at October Books – please do come and encourage students to take part.

Twitter and all that

We know many people find social media frivolous distraction but we have seen a vast increase in traffic on our own Twitter and FB feed and branches around the country have been sharing evidence about the flaws in UUK proposals, news of VCs reconsidering their views about defined benefit pension and, my favourite, photos of picket lines.

The Penguins of Solidarity enhance their skills portfolio by baking Chelsea buns.

It has been fantastic to see Southampton mentioned regularly on the UCU strike live web page and we are taking a few moments each day to compare #dogsonpicketlines, the quality of picket picnic fare #bakingforUSS (buns, welsh cakes, and chocolate cake here) as well as keeping up with the more serious commentary.

This blog by Marianne O’Doherty (English) struck a chord with many around the country with her observations about how the strike has “clarified the extent to which our employers feel that they are entitled to our free labour.”

 What’s next?

The conversations we have been forced to have about pensions are sparking much wider, important, debates about our sector and the work that we care passionate about. We must continue to engage with these and defend higher education and research.

It has been galling to see, after a semester of staff cuts, restructuring and increasingly hostile senior management behaviours here, that our once well-respected University has made the headlines yet again for all the wrong reasons.  In addition to having some of the most inflated senior salaries in the sector we discovered unedifying details about the further excesses of a few senior managers. We hope all members will watch the Channel 4 programme on Monday at 8pm and that efforts will be made to be more prudent at the top of our organisation.

Our sister unions Unite and Unison are holding a rally about the attack on pensions on Monday at 12 noon. Sally Hunt is due to attend, as is the leader of Southampton City Council.

There are rumours circulating that the University may try to prevent this rally taking place. Rest assured we will rally at 12 pm on 26 Feb – please check @SouthamptonUCU Twitter  and Facebook feeds, call in at Union House (47 University Rd) or ask our pickets for details.

As a result of the strike and the vote of support from SUSU Southampton UCU are working much more closely with student union representatives than ever before, Students have joined the picket lines, provided strikers with cakes and encouragement.  Next week we have more teach outs hosted by SUSU.Please do come along to these.

It’s been hard week. Striking is tough, especially when it is cold outside.  We would all rather be inside working, but we have to win this – our financial futures depend on it. So we will have to persevere, escalating our action if necessary.

To return to the Olympics theme, we think we deserve a GOLD for the strike last week. But this is not enough. We’re calling on all members this week to join us.

  • Join the picket lines. Bring a colleague.
  • Come to the rally at 12 on Monday 26th.
  • Support the SUSU teach outs on 27th and 28th.
  • Donate to the hardship fund.
  • Write to the VC and your MP – again if necessary.
  • Watch our FB and Twitter feeds for updates.
  • Work to contract on Thursday and Friday.

UCU members are clear.  Enough is enough.  We want a decent pension. We will take action until UUK make us a better offer. If you have not participated in a strike before now is the time to find your inner Blly Morgan – fight the fear and just go and do it.

See you in the morning for the first picket rotas.





UCU Industrial Action: a message to our members and colleagues

Dear members

Striking is hard. We know that you are wrestling with the momentous decision this branch and other UCU branches up and down the country have made to strike to defend our pensions.

None of us wants to harm our students’ education.

We don’t want to halt the world-leading research we are doing.

Nor do we want to stop the myriad activities we do every day that contribute to our university community.


We are facing an unprecedented attack – the changes to our pension represent a raid on our deferred salary.  The typical UCU member stands to see their retirement income reduced by £10,000 a year if these cuts to the USS pension fund are imposed. The proposed changes pose a threat to the future of the scheme, and the loss of a decent pension scheme poses a threat to the sector.

If we said you had to gamble your salary at a casino, knowing you’d lose £10,000, we hope you’d say no.

If we told you we were going to take 10-40% of your wages we hope you would do everything in your power to resist.

Our employers want to take away your guaranteed pension. Rather than sharing risk (as the current scheme does), UUK wants each individual member to shoulder all the risk of future stock market volatility. You only need to look at this morning’s papers to understand how risky this is.  Our employers are prioritising their profits, and washing their hands of their covenant to staff.

You have voted for this strike in record numbers. Striking has made a difference in the past, and can make a difference again now: an increasing number of VCs are publicly breaking from UUK’s hardline stance. We must maintain pressure on our senior management, and so all members of UCU must support the strike. We all have to be prepared to withdraw our labour on all of the strike days.

Southampton UCU members are expected to be on strike on Thursday, 22 February, and Friday, 23 February.

Then again from Monday 26 February to  Wednesday, 28 February.

And if UUK don’t come back to the negotiating table then we have to strike on Monday, 5 March, to Thursday, 8 March, and again Monday, 12 March, to Friday, 16 March.

Southampton students have voted to support us and we will be liaising closely with their representatives so that they understand why we have to strike.  We urge you to talk to your students and explain what is at stake here. There are resources on the UCU website – use them to educate our students, to inform parents and colleagues. This cut to our pension and total salary will make University of Southampton a less attractive place to work. Demoralised, devalued staff cannot deliver excellent education or research.  Ultimately this will damage the current and future students too.

UCU nationally and locally will be operating a hardship fund. We ask members who are able to please donate to support our colleagues – especially our casualised and hourly-paid colleagues – who will struggle financially in this strike.

We voted for strike action because the employers have pushed us too far.  We have delivered more and more for less and less reward. We are regarded as disposable assets and now our senior managers stand with UUK to dispense with our future financial security.

It’s time to stand together and say no.  We will see you on the picket line.

Laurie, Catherine, John, Tim, David, Mary, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Sarah, Cori, Huw, Maureen, Denis (Branch Committee 2017/18)


Collegiality and Communication

Several members have asked what has been happening to letters to the VC about the USS  pension.  Below is our correspondence to date.


From: UCU U.
Sent: 09 January 2018 11:05
To: Vice-Chancellor <>
Subject: USS pension

Dear Sir Christopher

Happy New Year to you.

Please find attached letter from UCU regarding the USS pension.  We hope that you are able to give your support to your staff and help protect their pensions.

We look forward to receiving a positive response from you soon.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU




From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 09 January 2018 15:37
To: UCU U. <>
Subject: RE: USS pension

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and the attached letter from Professor Pope.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden



From: UCU U.
Sent: 26 January 2018 16:50
To: Vice-Chancellor <>
Subject: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Please find attached letter from Southampton UCU in relation to the USS pension dispute.

We look forward to receiving your response.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU








From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 26 January 2018 18:13
To: UCU U. <>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and attached letter.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden



From: UCU U.
Sent: 29 January 2018 10:58
To: Vice-Chancellor <>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Thank you for acknowledging receipt of our letter sent to you on Friday 26 January (copy attached).  Would you be willing to make a statement to members responding to the points raised in this letter?

I look forward to receiving your response.

With regards



From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 29 January 2018 17:55
To: UCU U. <>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email.

Recognising that their pensions are of great importance to all USS members at the University, I will be posting an item on SUSSED within the next few days which will  also address points raised in UCU’s recent letters.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden


Hands off our money – fight to defend our pensions

With a single casting vote in the pension joint negotiating committee the financial security of current and future academic staff has been jeopardised.

Sadly this means that our strike action must go ahead.

Academics and academic related staff don’t like striking. We are here because we care about education and research. Most of us work longer hours than we are contracted for because we believe in what we do, because we chose service rather than profit.

But strike we must.

Here at Southampton UCU we are regarded (and regard ourselves) as a pretty moderate bunch. The turnout for the vote and the overwhelming support for strike action indicates that we have been pushed too far. This attack on our financial futures cannot be allowed to succeed.

The move to defined contribution pension with its frighteningly individualised risks (the value of investments may go DOWN as well as up) and attendant administrative charges, is nothing less than a pay cut. It is pay cut of between 10-40%, taken from our deferred salary. What is more, it is a pay cut supported by the members of the UUK side of the JNC who are most likely to be financially secure (

Not all VCs backed the UUK side or these damaging changes to USS. On Thursday last week, Warwick’s VC wrote that “there is a need to maintain a meaningful defined benefit scheme for those members of staff, present and future, who perceive pension provision as a key factor in their choice entering or remaining in higher education”.

Alongside him, the VC of Loughborough also stated his opposition in a letter (partially reproduced here ) .

Colleagues at Bristol reported that their employers had been keen to find a middle ground and planned to revise how much the institution was willing to pay in contributions.

Sadly our own VC, one of the highest paid senior academic leaders in this country, did not stand with us against the proposals. The senior management here have continued to support the move to defined contributions.

Members can expect more emails in coming days about the strike action. What we can say now is that we must strike to show our employer that our deferred salary is not theirs to bargain away.

Your executive committee will meet on Friday 26th Jan to plan the action here. In the meantime here are some of the things you can do now to help defend your pension.

  1. Volunteer for our picket lines.We will picket areas across our university campuses and need up to six on each picket line. Please email Amanda with contact details (
  2. Pass the message on. Tell those who are not members that these changes could wipe £200,000 from their pension. See Urge non-members to join UCU and join us in action to defend our pension.
  3. Bookmark updates on the action.
  4. email the VC and ask him why he did not defend your pension

Finally remember we are your branch. You are UCU. Send us your comments and ideas about how to make this strike effective.

We may be reluctant to strike, but strike we must. We cannot allow this assault on our retirement security to go unchallenged.


the photo used is from  and depicts an early US ballot box which of course is not related to the USS vote in any way but is instead a rather lovely piece of history.


A very busy week, and lots of progress to report

The Penguins of Solidarity re-enact our Strategy Day with Tony, the AUT Brain

I had not anticipated writing another blog quite so soon after the last, but some important things have happened this week, and – accepting the risk that members might get blog-fatigue before the autumn term has even started – I thought it was a good idea to update on the many positive outcomes of all the intense activity.

Tuesday we held our Strategy Day, and it was wonderful to welcome so many people – executive committee members, caseworkers, departmental reps – to what was a very productive session.  On the morning agenda were some important national issues, particularly changes to membership terms and pensions.  Briefly:

  • From 1 October, PGR students who teach during their doctoral studies are to be offered free full membership, valid for four years, or until the member achieves a more secure job. PGR students are already offered free membership, but not with all the benefits of full membership.  This is a very welcome change, and we hope you will advertise this to your PG teaching fellows and assistants.  Other changes from the union are in the pipeline, including CPD provision, help for international staff, and some significant adjustments to benefits. We’ll keep you updated.
  • Pensions: While we were discussing the problems of the 2017 USS valuation and the continued and growing threat to our pensions, the University of Sheffield decided in the interests of transparency to publish the valuation documents, something that UCU activists have been demanding for months: At branch and at national level, UCU is very concerned that the valuation methodology is inappropriate and damaging, and will leave scheme members increasingly worse off, potentially putting us into renewed conflict with our employers.  We have requested a meeting with the Finance Director to discuss USS, and we will be blogging about that in the near future.  You can follow the thoughts of Mike Otsuka, Professor at LSE, here.
Southampton UCU 2017 Strategy Day

Southampton UCU 2017 Strategy Day

In the afternoon, we discussed six related areas of concern that I have outlined in previous posts:

  • workload
  • misuse and abuse of the appraisal process
  • misuse and abuse of student evaluation
  • performance management
  • restructuring/redundancies/settlement agreements
  • the upcoming review of Statutes and Ordinances

From the feedback and ideas raised in the session, we are devising action plans for both negotiation and campaigning on all of these points.  We plan to set up some FAQ pages in the very near future: one in relation to appraisal concerns, and another with some points about settlement agreements.  We are, as always, keen to hear about your experiences, good and bad, in relation to first five; if you think you have expertise or experience that will help us with the sixth, we’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday was also a full day, this time with a number of meetings with HR and other professional services.  The general feeling at the end of the day was encouraging, having achieved some progress towards clear lines of consultation and negotiation on policies (to include principles, procedures, and guidelines) in the morning, and having addressed some points of concern directly with HR representatives in the afternoon. We had a valuable lessons-learned meeting, subsequent to a complex restructuring last academic year, that has helped us establish good practice for what we hope will be more effective and compassionate consultations in the future, with better outcomes for all concerned.

Finally, the statement below is a very positive outcome from our afternoon meeting with Andy Cast, Interim Director of HR Business Partnering, in relation to settlement agreements and protected conversations:

Under Employment Law a mutually agreed exit is achieved using a settlement agreement to ensure that contractual, common law and most statutory claims are settled, including claims of discrimination.  The discussions leading to the employee’s departure are conducted via a protected/without prejudice conversation to terminate the employment contract on terms mutually agreed between the employer and employee.  On occasions the University would like to be able to offer an opportunity for colleagues to leave under these voluntary terms.  Normally there will be a workplace dispute, relationship breakdown or an ongoing performance issue which initiates such action.  A settlement agreement can be requested by the employer or employee.  If the University wishes to offer one of these settlement agreements to a colleague, it will ensure 5 working days’ notice is given for any protected/without prejudice conversation, along with the opportunity for the staff member to bring a Union Representative or companion with them if they wish to do so.  For more information about settlement agreements, please see the ACAS guidance here.

This statement will be added to our FAQs on settlement agreements, but we wanted you to have the text as soon as possible, as it has reassured us of the university’s commitment now to give notice to employees if it wishes hold such a meeting, giving the employee the opportunity to arrange representation, if they wish.

Wishing you all the very best for the weekend, and the coming weeks leading up to the beginning of the autumn term



September update: Pay and priorities

As many of us descend into the long Sunday night that is September, preparing for the first Monday morning of the new academic year, Southampton UCU are putting together our own “syllabus” for 2017-18.*  We are having our annual strategy day next week (12 September), at which we will set our priorities for the coming year. If you are interested in coming along and still haven’t let us know – do it now (so we can make you welcome and feed you lunch).

More of that in a minute, but it would seem remiss of me not to at least mention the brouhaha in the press this week about top salaries in the university sector.  Most of us can only sit back in bewilderment at the insensitivity of comments made by a variety of leaders in HE.  On Monday, we witnessed the VC of Oxford University admitting that her pay is very generous in relation to the vast majority of her academic staff (but not in comparison to footballers and bankers, so that’s alright then). Today, the government has stepped in, with Jo Johnson set to tell UUK that senior management salaries should be curbed, with fines if excessive salaries cannot be justified. UCU has responded to Johnson’s proposals, underlining the need for transparency.

In the same report, the head of the Russell Group trots out the “global market” argument (“At the same time, our members are operating in a fiercely competitive international market for the best research, teaching and leadership talent. Ultimately this pays huge dividends, adding tens of billions of pounds to the economy every year and helping to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation”), weirdly forgetting, it seems, that senior management don’t actually deliver the research, teaching, and leadership all by themselves:  all staff in all universities contribute to the sector’s importance and position, sometimes despite the conditions in which we are asked to work, and the terms under which we are remunerated.

The national issue of pensions is also ever-present, and we expect that there will be further erosion to our benefits proposed.  We will keep you informed of national campaigns.  As a first action, you could consider signing a petition demanding that USS shows the way it has arrived at its dubious valuation:

Back to priorities:  as I have outlined previously, there are a number of important and intersecting concerns that have risen to the top of our agenda over the summer.  These are (in no particular order, because intersecting…): workload; abuse and misuse of the appraisal process; abuse and misuse of student evaluation; the upcoming review of the University’s Statutes and Ordinances (which form part of our terms and conditions); performance management; restructures.  I anticipate that these issues will inform the basis of our negotiations with the university, along with the ongoing work of policy review, contractual negotiations, and casework.

We already have a working group looking at workload issues, and we have volunteers who are helping with the Statutes and Ordinances review. But we still need your help: while our team of caseworkers are dedicated and efficient, the casework load is ever increasing, and we are always grateful for more volunteers who are willing to support colleagues.  We will provide you with training and support, and will not give you more than you can handle: sometimes, a member just needs advice or someone to help them consider alternative courses of action in any given situation.  Our more experienced caseworkers and our regional support officer and regional official, Scott Alexander and Moray McAulay, are on hand to deal with the difficult or sensitive cases.

Reports back from members show a variety of approaches to performance management, which range from the supportive and reasonable to the downright alarming. Please keep the reports coming: we will do all we can to keep information confidential.  We are continuing to press management into action on these points: keeping in mind the university’s published values of quality, sustainability, and collegiality, we want to work with management to ensure that all measures taken to improve performance, in whatever part of the university, are proportionate, fair, and should respect the legal rights of the employees and the university’s duty of care.

Saving the most important to last, we are now negotiating in restructures in a number of different areas in the University.  We do not expect that this activity will decrease.  We are also handling individual cases for members who are being offered settlement agreements to leave the university, with no warning, often at meetings that have been called under the pretence of a different matter.  Please be aware: if you arrive at a meeting at which an HR partner is in attendance without prior notice, you can request an adjournment until you have sought advice from UCU, and leave the meeting.  You can also request union representation if you are informed HR will be present at any meeting to which you are called.

We don’t want to alarm staff unnecessarily, but we want to make sure that you are supported, and that you know we are here to support you. We are so much stronger when we act as a community.

Wishing you all well

Prof Laurie Stras
President, Southampton UCU

*And if you are one of our colleagues that has been teaching or providing support for students throughout the summer, or working in professional services doing urgent tasks that cannot be completed in the main teaching semesters, we salute you.