Friday, 3 October 2008

University of Sussex Unite workers fight back against pension attack

[By Peter Knight, Brighton Thursday branch]

University of Sussex management should have known better than to attack the pensions of some of the lowest paid workers on campus. With plans to close the current in-house scheme for new clerical and support staff, Unite trade union members have voted in force to take strike action and to begin the fight back.

With the new term just one week old, nearly 100 workers, lecturers and students gathered in Library Square on Thursday 2 Oct for a rally to declare the industrial action and to protest at these pension changes. The strength of solidarity and unity from all areas of the university community offers formidable potential in forcing management into retreat.

Socialist Students at the universities of Sussex and Brighton helped to spread the word and build support for the workers at the universities’ Freshers’ fairs the day before and over 100 students were sent out emails advertising the rally.

After years of systematically running down the scheme with contribution holidays, bosses now want to close the in-house pension scheme and offer a defined contribution plan, increase the retirement age and increase employee contributions for all new members.

Around 70 per cent of Unite members voted to support strike action, while 83 per cent voted to support action short of a strike. The first strike day will be on Friday 10 October, with further strikes - if necessary - on the following three Fridays. The branch officers are also discussing action short of a strike for other dates including the university open day on Saturday 11 October.

Speaking at the rally, Steve Guy, Unite TGWU senior steward at Gatwick, offered solidarity from workers at the airport who successfully forced management into retreat over similar planned changes to their pension scheme. Steve also pointed out that solidarity was crucial to winning this dispute and quoted the trade union motto of “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Jim Guild, UCU member at the University of Sussex, demanded that management should “look at the chancellor’s own pension provisions if they were looking to save money, rather than attack those on the lowest rates of pay.” Jim also reminded everyone that “pensions are our deferred pay and that any cut in our pension is a cut in our pay.”

The loudest cheers were saved for Laura Tazzioli, University of Sussex Students’ Union President, who offered the support of every student at the university. Laura said: “Students are the workers of tomorrow so all of us should support the workers of today.”

Socialist Students and Socialist Party members will be there offering full assistance during the strike over the next few weeks and helping to develop strong links across all sections of the university community and beyond.