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Vice-Chancellor’s Response to letter of 16 March 2018

We have received a response to the letter sent on behalf of members to Sir Christopher on 16 March 2018.

“Dear Professor Pope and UCU Branch members,

“Thank you for  your letter of 16th March 2018.

“As you know, I have listened very carefully to the views expressed to me during the recent period of industrial action. I have talked to and been in dialogue with dozens of members of staff, in person, in groups, by email, and on the picket line, and I have had similar contacts with hundreds of students.

“I fundamentally understand the importance of pensions and the need to have the best possible and affordable schemes for all our colleagues at the University . My belief that as a sector we need to responsibly address the current situation and also ensure the long-term financial sustainability for future generations of the USS pension scheme has not changed. This needs to be balanced with the recognition of the acute financial challenges currently faced by all universities.

“I have, of course, heard and understood the strength of feeling of many members of staff on the issue of pension reform and that is why I directly and repeatedly urged Universities UK, and the Board of the Russell Group to return urgently to negotiations to try to find a more acceptable and still affordable,  proposal.

“Like many, I had hoped the alternative proposal which had been agreed between national UCU and UUK negotiators at ACAS, and which retained a substantial defined benefits component, could provide the pragmatic resolution required to end this dispute. Like many,  I was disappointed that this agreement was so quickly rejected nationally by UCU branches, although I appreciate the more considered reaction at Southampton.

“I can assure you that every day since that decision I have continued to try to use my influence within UUK, and within the Russell Group, to ensure that the momentum of those good-faith talks is not lost. I have strongly urged that talks resume at the earliest opportunity to find a workable and reasonable way forward as soon as possible. I will continue to press for that this week.

“I accept that the issue of the 2017 pension valuation is a source of considerable dispute, and will be key to any resolution. That is why I support the suggestion of setting up a panel of independent expert s to review the process and methodology of the most recent valuation, which was a part of the ACAS-mediated agreement.

“I also accept that universities as well as employees may need to contribute more into USS as part of an acceptable resolution, which is why, after much reflection, I did support the negotiated proposal developed at ACAS. But we do all need to understand the potential implications of what could be substantial additional contributions by universities – it would inevitably mean very significant additional savings have to be found elsewhere in order to fund any such additional contributions. In respect of deductions of strike pay, in common with most other universities, deductions for strike action to date will be spread across the March and April payrolls.

“Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to those UCU members who took industrial action for the collegial way in which they did so, and I am particularly grateful to all those members of staff who have clearly taken steps to minimise the impact of the industrial action on our students. They have been caught up in a dispute through no fault of their own, and that is why we need to find an acceptable way forward, and as soon as possible.

“Yours sincerely,

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden

President and Vice -Chancellor

cc: Dr Rider, Chair of Council”

 

 

Members’ update – 19 March 2018

Dear members

Welcome back to work. And a warm welcome to the 200+ new members that have joined the branch.

Many thanks to all our members who participated in the first 14 days of strike action – on the picket lines, by staying at home and not working, by writing to the VC, and by donating to the hardship fund.

We also thank our colleagues and friends in sister trades unions for refusing to engage in strike breaking activities and for their support of our picket lines and striking staff.

Thanks, too, are due to our students, individually and collectively (as SUSU and a myriad of student societies and groups including Southampton Students Against University Cuts and Socialist Students) who have engaged with the Vice-Chancellor, sent messages of support, and kept the picket lines supplied with cakes and good cheer.

Make no mistake, our action to defend our pensions is working.

Before the strike began, UUK said there was no possibility of any movement on their position.

  • UUK refused to go to ACAS  – then they did;
  • UUK said that they could not consider preserving defined benefits – then they did;
  • The statutory consultation on full defined contribution had to start on 19/3 – it is on hold;
  • We were told that independent valuation was impossible – now it is planned.

Locally, our senior management told us that they would deduct pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) or working to contract – we remonstrated, and they backed down.

When the offer of a deal was made last week, this branch felt that we needed more information and we were minded to support suspension of the action to allow the deal to go to a vote by all members.  In the end, there was a strength of feeling across country in favour of rejecting the deal – we listened, debated, and heard concerns that

  • 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 proposed CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit, was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme member rather than the employer collective;
  • the proposal included a commitment to encourage staff to reschedule missed lectures and classes. Although in practice, this would have been logistically very difficult, many members believed this was an unacceptable condition.

The deal was rejected and the dispute continues. National UCU is currently consulting with branches about further strike dates in the summer term.

UUK appear willing to talk and a number of astonishing concessions have been made, which offer us hope that we will be offered a better deal. We have written again to our VC, and to the Chair of Council asking them to put pressure on UUK to offer us a better deal.

We are asking ALL members to participate in ASOS.  This means working your contracted hours.  This will undoubtedly impact on what gets done – even our senior managers have conceded that our workloads regularly extend beyond the work hours we are actually paid for. This will be painful – like taking strike action – but it is vital that we keep up the pressure on our senior managers and on UUK.

UCU has asked all members to resign from external examining roles for those HEIs affected by the action. As a result, we have lost a number of external examiners for programmes and doctoral examinations here, and many of us have resigned from these duties elsewhere.

Members here have prepared a helpful guide to the ways in which you can support the strike and ASOS. We expect this to be added to over the coming days and weeks – please keep your suggestions coming for how we can ensure this part of the action has maximum impact.  

The dispute here has thrown a spotlight on a number of local concerns that extend beyond the pension dispute. Conversations here have highlighted staff dissatisfaction with

  1. the governance of the University of Southampton – the lack of academic and ARPS staff voices in decisions; the dominance of external influencers who have no background in higher education on our strategy and practice; the lack of transparency;
  2. the restructuring and cuts – we are concerned that this is yet another top down, ill-managed organisational change that is damaging education and research;  
  3. the ever-increasing size and remuneration packages of the senior management – when front line staff are being cut do we really need to expand the number of managerial roles, including both academic and administrative leadership, earning over £150,000?
  4. gender and other inequalities – the publication of the Equal Pay Review in the middle of the strike did little to reassure staff here that senior managers take inequalities seriously – the 21.5% gender pay gap is indefensible;
  5. workloads – the requests from senior managers to prioritise work that comprises some 60% of workload cements the view that our workloads are excessive – we simply cannot do the job in our contracted hours (which is why we work weekends and evenings to the detriment of our health and wellbeing);
  6. attacks on our lower paid colleagues in levels 1-3 who are also threatened with the removal of their defined benefit pension (we are working closely with our sister trades unions UNITE and UNISON to support these staff).

Given the scale of these concerns it is little wonder that senior management have booted the proposed annual staff survey to October – they are undoubtedly too scared to find out what we think. But they are also apparently using the busy-ness of our return to work to hit us with another wave of job losses: this morning the Exec were made aware of four new consultations comprising 28 new redundancies, 24 of which are in UCU’s bargaining group, ERE staff and MSA/TAO staff appointed at Level 4 and above. We cannot afford to reduce the pressure on our employers with regards to either our pensions or these local issues.

If all this seems overwhelming, please do remember that the strike has brought out the best in us as a community – our strength and our common values. It has reminded us of many of the things that we thought we had lost at this University. We have rediscovered collegiality – we have talked to each other unfettered by the silos of academic units or impossible schedules. We have laughed together and supported each other. We have debated and learned alongside students and members of our community (especial thanks to our wonderful colleagues who led daily teach-out sessions during the strike). We have harnessed an inflatable dinosaur and social media to spread our messages – much more successfully than Universities UK or our own corporate comms.

Above all we have rediscovered that ‘We Are the University’. As of today we are asking you to join us to reclaim your University and higher education. Whatever your role here, you are part of our team and together we can do this.

If you are reading this you are also a member of UCU – the largest post-16 education union in the UK. We are asking you to help us fight for you.

Here’s what you can do – starting today

  1. stick to ASOS – work  your hours
  2. come to the EGM on Friday 23 March 11 am Building 29
  3. ask a colleague to join UCU
  4. donate to the local hardship fund – we will be distributing payments soon
  5. volunteer for our new working groups, or as a caseworker supporting members in difficulty
  6. defend USS – strike and ASOS planning group (Wave 2 of the strikes will commence after Easter)
  7. restructuring and cuts  
  8. misuse of appraisal  
  9. protecting the statutes and ordinances  

You can volunteer today by contacting Amanda ucu@soton.ac.uk

We do not want to lose the momentum and well-being created by the strike.  We urge you to grow your networks and establish regular contacts with each other to engage in everyday small acts of resistance and to reclaim the University.  We will use our social media, other online and offline networks to publicise these acts – and please suggest ideas of your own. Thus far we are aware of

  • reclaim your lunch break clubs – to meet in the observatory B85, the Arlott Bar, Avenue Canteen or off site;
  • ‘go home on time’ email cascades around work groups to remind people to work their hours;
  • plans for teach-outs to meet colleagues and students outside the constraints of the formal curriculum.

Thank you for reading this far.  We have come a long way since the strike action began on 22 February. We have further to go but We Are the University. We will fight together.

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)

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

It’s still on, and we’re still out.

Members will know from email and social media, UCU Higher Education Committee voted to reject the proposals put forward on Monday.

As we said in our last blog announcement, our branch recognises and has shared members’ issues and concerns with the proposals. UCU President Sally Hunt has made clear in recent messages that the decision to reject the proposals was made following detailed discussion of the proposals by branch reps, following UCU’s commitment at the start of the dispute to ensure branches take a full role in decision-making.

We fully respect the outcome of UCU’s democratic processes and we ask all branch members to continue with strike action and Action Short of a Strike. We want to see a really good showing on the picket lines, at rallies, at events and teach outs for the rest of this week.

Please join us on the picket line. If you cannot join us on the picket line, we ask you not to do any university work, and to ensure that your auto-reply is on.  From next week, we ask you to engage in Action Short of a Strike (working only your contracted hours) when not on strike.

We have a full schedule of events and teach outs planned for the rest of the week, starting Wednesday morning with pickets at 8.00 AM; a rally and briefing at 11.00 at Jubilee Plaza, and continuing with Silke Roth’s fantastic teach out on Digital and physical activism, 2pm Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre (just past Brewed Awakening).

Details of the rest of the week’s teach-outs are here:

Weds 14 March

2-4pm

Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Broadlands Rd, nr Brewed Awakening How have digital technologies and social media changed activism? 
Silke RothIn 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 March2-4pm 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.

Members are asking what happens next and you can find a broad outline in Sally Hunt’s message to members, which you will have received by email – though we do not yet know what UUK’s response will be, and their response will naturally shape our next steps. Indications are that it is likely that the consultation on full DC (mentioned in today’s meeting) will begin on 19 March. UCU will provide members with materials on this as soon as possible. Members who are also external examiners at USS institutions will be asked to consider their positions in respect of those contracts. Your branch will also be in contact with Head Office to set the next 14 days of strike action after the Spring Vacation.

We look forward to showing our strength and solidarity on the picket lines tomorrow! See you there…

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)

ACAS proposals and members’ briefing

We held a briefing meeting for members this morning to hear your views about the new proposals from UCU and UUK, published last night. Please note that this was not an EGM as we need to give three days’ notice for this under branch rules.

Earlier this morning a quorate UCU executive committee met to discuss the proposals and agreed the following statement:

“We are minded to support the suspension of the action to put the deal to our members with the information they will need to make evidence based and critically informed decisions because this is a complex situation and we need to hear all voices.”

This statement was then read to the members at the briefing. There was a discussion of the proposals at the meeting, and members raised a number of issues and concerns. We will feed these issues, and others that come to us via email, back to UCU nationally. It was very clear at the meeting that we need more information to inform our decisions. We are also aware that not everybody from the branch was able to attend the meeting or express their views. At this stage, the branch does not feel able to either support or reject the proposals.

UCU HEC will be meeting this afternoon at 2pm to discuss the proposals and will make the decision whether to suspend or continue with the strike and ASOS action. Please note that should the action be suspended UCU members will be balloted on whether or not to accept the proposals.

We will be in touch with you once we know more and can begin to answer your questions with confidence.

Thank you for your patience and continued support.

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.

But…

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

2-4pm

SUSU meeting room 2

Level 1 B42

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

 

2-4pm

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

 

2-4pm

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

2-4pm

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 soton.ac.uk 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

Letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council

NB: Update, 1700 9 March 2018.  We have had a response from the Chair of Council. attached at the foot of this post.


Away from the vitality and vibrancy of our pickets and teach-outs, Southampton UCU members have been busy writing letters and campaigning.  You will have seen our open letter, signed by over 1000 people, that we published on Monday.

Today, we sent another letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council, asking them to make representations to Sir Christopher Snowden, our President and VC.  We asked specifically for him to align the University of Southampton with the growing number of universities who are now rejecting the “November valuation” of USS on which UUK’s final proposals were based.  We also asked for Southampton to follow the example of a number of institutions who have committed to spreading pay deductions for striking members over the rest of the academic year.

The text of the letter is given here:

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Please sign our Open Letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor

NB: We closed the letter to new signatories at 1645, due to the announcement on SUSSED that confirmed that the VC would not be withholding pay from staff for ASOS. We’d like to thank everyone who signed the letter, and we are grateful to the VC for listening to our concerns.


We have compiled an open letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden, urging him to support his staff in their fight to retain their pensions, and expressing our grave concern at the aggressive position taken against striking staff, in messages sent on 1 March 2018.

We would like to present this letter to the VC at the end of this third week of strikes, on 9 March 2018, but we will continue to collect signatures until the dispute is called off.

Please show us your support by signing the letter – anyone can sign, not just UCU or university members.   The text is reproduced below. To add your name, click on this link and fill in the form at the bottom of the letter: signatories will be added to this blog periodically, last update each day at 1730.

(Please do not leave a comment here to ask us to add your name: we really want your signatures, but we are really stretched for administrative capacity, especially during the strike. Please click on this link and add it via the form instead.)

A huge thank you from Southampton UCU Executive Committee.


Dear Sir Christopher

We are writing to you about the ongoing strike action, related to the sweeping reforms to pension arrangements proposed by Universities UK.

The proposal for radical change, which downgrades the USS pension scheme from primarily defined benefit to completely defined contribution, is a contentious and divisive issue amongst universities themselves. We think that Southampton should be demonstrating strong leadership to counter this ill-conceived proposal, and avoiding a damaging and potentially prolonged industrial dispute with its staff. We know that you were among the first VCs publicly to embrace the proposal (Southampton UCU blog, 4 October 2017), but you have expressed a desire to see meaningful consultation resume.

We urge the University of Southampton to lobby hard to find a fair and decent solution, which protects the interests and financial security of staff and restores relationships of trust across the sector. Whilst we appreciate the need for collective responsibility in negotiations, we think the issue is so critical and the consequences so grave, that you should consider making a public stand, similar to that taken by the VCs of Cambridge, Warwick, Glasgow, Loughborough, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Essex, Durham, Birkbeck and Imperial College.

Some institutions have challenged the proposals, including on the grounds of justice and fair play to their staff, as well as concerns about the underlying assumptions upon which the case for reform are based. Loughborough has led the way in demonstrating compassion for its staff, ensuring that strike pay deductions are made over the remaining months in the academic year, to lessen immediate hardship for those who can least afford the loss of income. In light of this, we are particularly concerned by the unnecessarily aggressive stance taken against staff in messages sent on Thursday 1 March by a number of AUs and Faculties, which set out threats of docking pay of those taking part in Action Short of a Strike (ASOS), for failing to reschedule lectures (an instruction that is impossible for individual lecturers to fulfil), as well as restrictions on leave to attend conferences. We are dismayed that the University feels this is an appropriate position to take, and we are concerned that this demonstrates little recognition of the effort that will be needed to repair serious damage to staff-employer relations once the dispute is over.

We find it hard to think of an employment-related issue that has generated more anger, distress and strong feelings among university staff. To be sure, many senior academics stand to lose significantly in retirement, but the proposed changes will be devastating for the pension provision for younger and more junior staff, of both academic and related backgrounds, and those on lower incomes and part-time contracts, particularly female staff. The proposals – and the ongoing industrial action – will damage the sector, the financial wellbeing of its staff, its global competitiveness, and institutional relationships of trust and goodwill for decades to come.

We urge you and your senior management team to use Southampton’s influence in the sector to demonstrate active leadership in challenging the UUK and seeking to convince it to reconsider its position before the UCU industrial action escalates. Only through working together with the union, both within this university and across the higher education sector, can Southampton ensure that its staff are valued and fairly-rewarded, in particular those in weaker positions of income and contract; that students are given the best educational experience; and that its international reputation is maintained.

Yours sincerely

1055 signatories to 1645, 6 March 2018

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