Members of the union’s national executive committee, many of them from the UCU Left, overturned the plans of general secretary Sally Hunt weeks before the Left tries to unseat her in a leadership election.
Ms Hunt had proposed that the UCU ballot its members on the government’s latest offer on the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, which includes academics in post-1992 universities.
But at a meeting of the union’s NEC on 20 January, members voted for a motion postponing any ballot.
A UCU spokesman said the motion also “commits the union to reject the government's offer, name a day of national strike action for 1 March (to which other unions are to be invited), and to further regional strike days during February”.
That puts the UCU at the forefront of the push for further strikes, as other teaching unions consult their members about next steps on the government’s offer.
John McCormack, an NEC member, wrote on the UCU Independent Broad Left website: “Once again, the SWP-led UCU Left have treated our members with total contempt by voting to deny them a ballot.”
UCU Left members were among the NEC members to sign an open letter prior to the meeting saying Ms Hunt “seems to think that we cannot win further concessions through negotiations, and seems pessimistic about further industrial action”.
The split within the union comes before the general secretary election opens on 6 February.
Mark Campbell, the UCU Left-endorsed candidate, will stand against Ms Hunt.
When previously setting out her recommendation for a ballot in a letter to members, Ms Hunt said: “Detailed analysis shows that the government’s final position is significantly improved from where we started but there is no doubt that under the proposals everyone will have to pay higher contributions and many will have to work longer in order to receive a final pension equivalent to current entitlements.”
Ms Hunt had said that the latest offer, with a 1/57 accrual rate, would see a further education lecturer under 50 with 20 years’ service get a pension worth 91 per cent of current entitlement – up from 81 per cent under the government’s initial offer.
United on work-to-rule action over pay offer:
The Unite union says its higher education members – ranging from “professors to porters” – are engaged in work-to-rule industrial action at the £150 pay offer from employers.
The 2011-12 pay offer has already been paid out by most universities.
Mike Robinson, national education officer for Unite, said: “Our members have withdrawn the goodwill and flexibility that is so vital for the running of an academic institution.”
He added that universities “can well afford to be more generous at a time of soaring household bills for working people. For example, Imperial College London has given its staff £500-a-year more on all scales.”
Unite will also boycott a series of meetings with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.