Lecturer spells out pensions misery at London protest
Speakers at a London rally today spelled out the damage changes to pension schemes would do and called on the deputy prime minister to apologise for misleading comments about gold-plated public sector pensions. The rally followed a march of over 20,000 people through London.
Annie Holder, a performing arts tutor from Lewisham, told a rally in Westminster that she would have to drastically alter her retirement plans if the changes to her pension were forced through. She said that with all the turmoil in the further education sector, the one thing that provided her with comfort was some sort of a pension - just £60 a week - when she retired.
She said she did not want to be on strike and could not really afford to lose a day's pay, but felt she had no other option. She warned that a 3% rise in pension contributions would make paying into a pension too expensive for many people and, with the small pensions safety net gone, talented individuals will be put off working in further and adult education.
Also speaking on stage was the general secretary of UCU, Sally Hunt. She told the crowd that the government had no right to lecture anyone about fairness and called on Nick Clegg to apologise for misleading comments about gold-plated public sector pensions.
She reminded the crowd that the average pension of a female college lecturer is just £6,000 a year and that the coalition government presided over an increase in the income of the richest 1,000 people in the country by 18% in its first year in office.
Annie Holder's speech:
Despite the lip service paid by successive governments to lifelong learning, over the last few years literally thousands of courses have been closed and opportunities for employment have shrunk.
One thing that used to provide me with some comfort was the thought that, although my work is not secure or plentiful, at least I could expect some sort of pension when I retired. Not that much - about £60 week - hardly what you might call gold-plated.
The 3% increase will, for part-timers like me, make paying into a pension unviable because it will be simply too expensive, so even that small safety net will be gone. Who will want to enter my profession, with such poor provision for their retirement?
This will deter the best and brightest from wanting to work in further and adult education because it sends a clear message: your work is not valued. And if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
I'm what people call 'a woman of a certain age'. I'm 57 years old. The Daily Mail - not known for its sympathy towards the welfare state - last week called us 'A generation betrayed' and pointed out that the state pension reforms 'will mean misery for 2.6 million women'.
I am precisely in that bracket of women for whom the goalposts have been moved not once but twice in terms of when we can expect to retire. From 60 then to 62, and now 64 or even 65. What next? 70? Bye-bye, pleasant thoughts of running around the park with my grandchildren whilst I still have legs to run around on.
In fact this particularly misogynistic government has targeted women disproportionately in its politically-motivated attempt to dismantle the welfare state. Maybe they think we are a soft target? But why should I, and millions like me, pay for the greed and stupidity of the banking sector?
Let me tell you something, George Osborne, Danny Alexander and the rest of you. We are no soft target, and we will not quietly accept the blame for the deficit. Going on strike is not an option that was taken lightly. There are thousands of people on strike today - including many of my colleagues from Lewisham - who have never been on strike before.
People in my sector - mainly women, mainly part-timers on very few hours per week - really cannot afford the financial sacrifice that the strike has entailed. None of us want to deprive our students of their education, especially in exam season. This was the only option, the only way to let our voice be heard.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, speech:
Ted Kennedy once said that the definition of a civilised society is when teachers are paid as much as army generals. On that basis we still have a very long way to go.
I come from a family of teachers, and I am here today, not just to support our members, but to support my mum, my dad, my aunties and uncles and my brother too.
Coming from where I am. From the family I am in. I could never underestimate the power of education to change things. Or the determination of teachers to stand up for what is fair. An attack on teachers is an attack on education itself. And an attack on education is an attack on hope.
I received an email from Diane from Norfolk who is on a pension of £120 a week. So to hear Nick Clegg talk of public sector fat cats and gold-plated pensions makes my blood boil. He must apologise for that remark.
The average pension of a female college lecturer is just £6,000. This is a government that has already presided over an increase in the income of the richest 1000 people by 18%. How dare they call us gold-plated? How dare they to preach to us about fairness?
And who are they to lecture us about letting our students down. We would be letting our students down if we failed to stand up for fairness. We would be letting our students down if we let government get away with teaching on the cheap. And we would be letting our students down too, if we allowed what previous generations won over decades to disappear in a summer.
Teaching is the profession that teaches every other profession. Upon education rests all our hopes for future prosperity and all our hopes for a fair society. And a fair society means fair pensions for all, not just for teachers and civil servants, but for everyone.
Let's be clear about that. We stand for dignity in old age for all - public, private - even Members of Parliament.
I started by telling you about my family. I'm very proud of their service as teachers. They built the foundations for everything I stand for. But, like you, I've another family too - sitting here in this room.
All of us here belong to the same extended family. We are all trade unionists. As in any family, we stand together to defend ourselves. As in any family, the strong support the weak. As in any family, an injury to one is an injury to all. So we all owe it to all our families: to work together, to stand together and to win together.
Mark Campbell, UCU London Metropolitan University/UCU NEC member, speech:
According to the Govt, and sections of the media, by striking today we are damaging our pupils, students, claimants, single mothers, and all hard working tax payers - to name a few.
In reality of course the truth is precisely the opposite. If we weren't striking for jobs, conditions, pensions, and above all the defence of our public services, then we really would be letting down all those that rely on those services - schools, FE colleges, universities, hospitals, social services, and all the countless others. These are the essential services our members provide day in, day out, to millions, in the face of both Tory cutbacks and media hostility.
So NO, we wont take lectures from Tory privatisers and public service cutters!
Remember, the Tories are the ones that started by saying there was no such thing as society, and are now with their LibDem colleagues embarked on its effective dismantlement!
Cameron's so-called 'big society' is one based on cutting public funding and accountability - and leaving us all to the mercy of a 'free for all' free market made up of the Tories 'for profit' private friends.
A prime example of this is exemplified by this week's HE White Paper.
Direct public funding for universities is cut by 80%, students are charged £9,000/year, private providers are encouraged to enter the sector and force universities to compete by cutting staff costs to the bone. So, working class universities like mine, cut 70% of its courses - Inc Philosophy, History, Performing Arts, ... and sack hundreds of staff.
This is a race to the bottom that will fundamentally damage the prospects of working class students. It is the stealing of our children's future!
Students are now expected to take on huge debt, be crammed into larger and larger classes, with fewer and fewer courses to choose from, while university staff are sacked, their pay cut, their workload increased, and their pensions attacked.
But, it doesn't have to be like this. The money is there!
Rather than cutting big business corporation tax by billions to one of the lowest rates in Europe, we should be increasing it by billions. We should be taxing bank profits, and we should be hiring more civil servants to get the £120B in avoided, and evaded, big business taxation.
We should stop spending hundreds of millions on war, and we shouldn't be replacing Trident.
We should use those tax revenues to invest in our public services, and in real jobs, and we should be growing our economy not shrinking it further.
That is our alternative and it is what we all have to fight and argue for with vigour.
Today is an excellent start. We now need to increase the pressure, and call on other unions to join with us.
Cameron and Clegg need to know that unless they take their hands off our jobs, pensions, and public services, we will organise millions out on strike in October. Now is the time for our general resistance - public sector workers and public sector users - now is the time to organise for our General Strike! We need to name the day!
You can follow all the events on UCU's live blog at www.ucu.org.uk/action2011live and on Twitter via the hashtag #ucustrike
A full list of events around the country can be found at www.ucu.org.uk/30june