Inimical ballot (1 of 2)

February 2, 2012

In June last year, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, wrote in the New Statesman that "the prospect of 800,000 teachers in schools, colleges and universities being on strike should concentrate government minds". She was right: it did. Since then, as the wave of industrial action in defence of our pensions has intensified, the government has sought to make small concessions to divide the opposition to its plans. That tactic has not worked.

The coalition's most recent offer, made after the industrial action on 30 November, involved minor concessions on accrual rates and the consumer price index inflator, plus the exclusion of those within 10 years of retirement from some (although not all) of the planned detriments. The final point was a crude attempt to divide older and younger members. All have been to no avail. Few if any pensions members have been fooled. The concessions still left us facing an additional three to four years of working life to earn the same pension. They left us paying more each month for reduced benefits. And since there is an annual surplus in the Teachers' Pension Scheme, those increases are effectively an additional tax on TPS members.

Now, partly in response to the UCU's initiative, the National Union of Teachers and the Public and Commercial Services Union - possibly to be joined by the NASUWT and others - have agreed that there should be joint strike action in defence of pensions in March, and some form of regional rolling action thereafter ("Pensions protection", Letters, 26 January). At its recall meeting on 10 February, there is little doubt that the UCU will welcome these developments and join with its sister education unions in agreeing a day for action in March.

Some have suggested that the UCU's decision not to ballot on the offer is controversial. Yet nearly every other union involved in the TPS dispute does not consider a ballot to be appropriate. Of the teaching unions, only the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has balloted (result pending). All the others (the NASUWT, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the NUT and the National Union of Teachers of Wales), plus the PCS and Unite health unions, are rightly of the view that there are, as yet, no significant concessions to consider. Were the UCU to have balloted in these circumstances, it would have taken its members out of the fight in March and undermined the position of our colleagues in the other unions. It would also have invited the government to make a series of minor concessions to force us to engage in serial balloting.

That is why all three UCU branches at Brighton that have met have rejected the offer and supported continued action, with other unions if possible. When there is significant movement from the government, the UCU will ballot members as it always does.

Tom Hickey, University of Brighton University and College Union, National executive, UCU

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