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USS pension justice - we earned it

Speech to the higher education committee, 6 October 2023

6 October 2023

Yesterday was a landmark day not only for our union but the whole trade union movement. The attacks on workers' pensions have been relentless over the last few decades and many fantastic unions have been unable to defend their members' schemes.

Four years ago, UCU members' pensions were attacked. This followed earlier attacks. Value had already been slashed from USS, when it was downgraded from a final salary scheme. More recently in 2017 employers tried to dilute the value of our pensions further by making it a defined contribution scheme. This led to strike action in 2018, and it was UCU who prevented this. This moment created a huge debate within our union. It divided people. Ultimately, it led to my election as general secretary. But more importantly, it led to this union coming together and victoriously fighting back against subsequent attacks.

I want to say to our higher education committee (HEC) that this moment is a blueprint for us. It is a pathway for us delivering greater change.

It's not all about me. It's not all about the HEC. It's not all about negotiators. It is about the whole union coming together, backed by our outstanding members to deliver something special. So, whilst every component part of the union has done their job, the true victor here is collectivism.

There have been some dark days in this dispute: 69 days of strike action. But there was remarkable and inspiring resolve from UCU members. How many times were we told to give up? How many experts attacked us? How many vice chancellors doubted us?

All of those people are silent today. Because all of them were wrong. 

The trade union movement doesn't do enough to celebrate its wins and successes. So we will mark this one appropriately. But, you know as well as I do that we have work to do. 

Today is another day. Today we have another fight. 

So I ask the whole HEC to join me and switch your attention to the ongoing HEC national ballot which closes in four weeks. We have to campaign, engage and recruit in the next four weeks just as we have done in the last four years--relentlessly. 

Thousands of our members will be proud today. But they also need justice on pay, workload, and casualisation. 

And thousands of our members aren't in the USS and they need to feel what our USS members feel today. They need to feel collectivism and its power. 

So from today at the UK level we will increase our efforts on the ballot-- texts, emails, mailing, meetings, get the vote out day and more. 

And I am asking you to join me. I am asking the whole union to join me. Attend as many meetings as you can, phonebank for us, use social media, speak to colleagues, win over people who say they can't do this again. Do every single thing you can to deliver a third national ballot win.

Four weeks from now the ballot will be closed. And if we get the right result, we can truly be on the path to winning in the workplace. 

So, it's a massive well done from me. A massive well done to all of you and to the whole union. 

But it's also a massive 'let's go again'. 

One campaign won. Another to go. 


Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 6 October 2023