The UCU Strike

Posted on April 30, 2011

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LAURA SCHWARTZ 

In March this year university lecturers went on strike against the reform of their pension scheme which included forcing employees to pay more while their employers pay less, and ending the final salary scheme for anyone new to the workforce.

Picket lines went up in every university across Britain totalling five strike days. Pensions are now political. Pension reform is an attempt to create divisions between baby boomers and those of us under 35, erasing the memory and sense of entitlement to something as basic as the right to retire without fear of poverty. Many students supported the strike, and at Goldsmiths College, University of London they took over management’s offices for 4 days – an interesting tactic of using an occupation to enforce a picket line.

What has often been passed over, however, is the sexist nature of these pension cuts. The proposed changes discriminate especially against any employee whose wishes to take a career break or to return to work part-time. These are most likely to be people with childcare responsibilities, who in turn are statistically most likely to be women. The pension reforms represent not only a neoliberal but also a socially conservative agenda: further limiting any choice we might have about how to combine work with family life. They will also serve to reinforce the nuclear family, deterring fathers or non-biological family members from taking an equal part in childcare.

Less than one hundred years ago women were still fighting to study at universities on an equal basis with men. Until the Second World War, female lecturers at many universities were required to resign their posts on marriage. It is ironic (if only it were not so predictable) that, just at the moment in which women have begun to enter a relatively prestigious profession in near-equal numbers to men, that profession becomes devalued and degraded. Academia today is still a comparatively welcoming space for feminists: but right now our feminism needs to extend beyond the words we write in books to struggling in our own workplaces against retrograde practices which divide and exploit in highly gendered ways.

Posted in: 4. Ed Two