Anyone watching the news yesterday will have seen the unusual sight of a substantial number of university lecturers on strike. The proposal to change the USS pension scheme from a decent one (despite the ravages of recent years) into a defined contribution scheme, subject to the exigencies of markets and the greedy attentions of incompetent fund managers, has finally galvanised academics to action. Fortunately, at least for the time being, Kingston’s scheme, the TPS, is not affected. One wonders how we might react to such an attack on our pensions given the willingness of so many KU staff to tolerate the behaviour of our aggressive management with little complaint. If the TPS were subject to such hostile proposals we could at least count on the school teachers, always more prepared to fight than lecturers, to resist.
The excuses for undermining university pensions are the usual neoliberal claptrap: too expensive and too generous. Which of course means that VCs and their management cronies want to cut staff incomes while increasing theirs as fast as they can. The notion of a pension deficit has been wheeled out many times since the financial crisis ten years ago. Low interest rates, instigated by the Bank of England to protect asset prices, as it has admitted, lead automatically to high deficits. Now that interest rates are beginning to rise, these deficits will gradually fall. Don’t expect the employers to take any notice of that. They won’t be content unless our pay continues to fall in real terms, and our deferred pay (pension) joins the worst examples in the private sector.
So for now be glad we are not in this position. But don’t count your chickens. Prepare to fight or go under.