Pensions, not politics

June 28, 2012

As a delegate to the University and College Union congress from the branch that moved the "work-to-contract" motion for staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme, I would like to address some misconceptions your readers may be left with as a result of "Self-destructive tendencies" (Letters, 21 June). We did not move the motion because we have a "Trotskyist agenda that has little to do with representing the views and aspirations of branch members": we did so because we were mandated to do so by the members we represent.

The motion to resume "work to contract" was passed unanimously by Cardiff University UCU members at a well-attended general meeting in March, and followed a similar motion calling for a continuation of industrial action also passed unanimously by an extraordinary general meeting at Cardiff in January. Members at the university come from a broad range of political backgrounds and many are unaffiliated. They would not recognise Howard Moss' description of them as "apathetic".

Only one of our members belongs to a Trotskyist party, so what Moss describes as a "'struggle' is a good in itself" frame of mind applies to only about 0.1 per cent of the Cardiff UCU local association's membership, if at all (much lower than the 3 to 4 per cent of UCU members he claims are part of such parties). In one aspect, Moss is correct: the agenda that drove our members to mandate us so strongly to move the motion is an "exquisitely political one". The USS is in excellent health, and there is no justification on financial grounds for the employers' changes. These will leave many of our members, particularly younger female staff, on inadequate pensions in old age, and will drive the best and brightest away from academia in order to earn enough in other fields to afford adequate retirements.

Our members at Cardiff understand that the attack on the USS is an exquisitely political one because it is fundamentally linked to the privatisation agenda: make the pension scheme more affordable to employers and you make higher education more attractive to private vultures. As a female academic who hopes to avoid starvation in old age, I am very pleased that the majority of UCU delegates at congress agreed with our "thinking membership" at Cardiff and voted in favour of our motion, and did not believe the silliness about Trotskyist conspiracies that causes so much damage and divisiveness in our union.

Liza van Zyl, Cardiff University UCU local association, Vice-chair, UCU Cymru

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