Birkbeck UCU | News | Dispute Bulletin No. 4

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Dispute Bulletin No. 4

Massive strike action forces divided and isolated VCs back into talks

The biggest ever strike seen in the university sector has forced the employers to agree to preliminary talks next Tuesday, 27 February.

Birkbeck’s lively picket lines were exceptionally well staffed, with union members from almost every Department, and the numbers were swelled by students and sympathetic Unison members. The atmosphere on the picket lines was positive and good natured but absolutely firm in support of the demand to protect our defined benefit pension scheme against the wanton destruction of a group of unrepresentative, hard-line VCs.

Meanwhile, inside the college buildings, scores of rooms were empty as large numbers of lectures and classes were cancelled, testimony to the widespread popularity of the strike action.





New talks must centre on reform not destruction of the pension scheme

That the employers have agreed to any talks at all after just two days of strike action is evidence of the new balance of power in the university sector. The strike has engaged unprecedented numbers of staff; it has enjoyed widespread support from students and other university workers; 18 Vice Chancellors have now repudiated their hard-line leaders; MPs from all parties have condemned the intransigence, not to mention the greed, of the VCs; and even the Financial Times, The Times and the Daily Telegraph have sharply criticized their conduct of the dispute, forcefully urging a return to talks.

Isolated, unpopular and deeply divided, the VCs have now agreed to meet UCU on Tuesday 27 February.

But this is only a beginning. Given the new balance of power, it is imperative that the VC plan to destroy defined benefit pensions is kept firmly off the bargaining agenda. The only issue on the table should be how to reform and protect the existing scheme. Some VCs, such as Universities UK Chair Prof Janet Beer, are still desperately clinging to the deluded idea that their plan for pension destruction is still in play.

Three more days of strike action should hopefully convince even the most intransigent and misguided VCs that their plan is dead in the water. The sooner they face up to the new political reality, the new balance of power, the sooner that meaningful and productive negotiations can begin.  

Next General Meeting, Fri 2 March, Lower Ground Floor, Main Building, 1.00 – 2.00 pm

We will be discussing the progress of the strike to date; hearing a report-back on Tuesday’s talks and feedback from a national meeting of UCU reps on Thurs 1 March; and planning future action.

Picketing and picket rota

Many thanks to all those who have signed up to the picketing rota and thanks in advance to those not on the rota but intending to show up next week (Mon, Tues and Wed). You can access the rota and add your name at the link below:

If you are flexible about times, we need most people on the morning shift, 9-12, and the late afternoon shift, 3.30 – 6.30-7.00.

Communications to students  

Please remember to notify students in advance of lecture and class cancellation and urge them to voice their concerns and their support for us by writing to Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive, Universities UK,

Hardship funds

The union has established a national hardship fund that will make payments to individual union members of up to £50 per strike day to a total maximum of £500. Priority will be given to low income members and details can be found in the attachment alongside this bulletin and also at this link:

In addition the local union has now committed to spend up to £5,000 on hardship and details will be provided in due course. Members should apply, in the first instance, to the national hardship fund; the local fund will be available as a top up.


Many thanks to all those who sent photos of the picket lines, and keep them coming. Two are included in this bulletin and more will be added to the local union website asap.

Diary dates

Mon-Wed 26-28 Feb

Strikes week 2

Wed 28 Feb

March on Parliament organized by London Region UCU. Assemble Malet St, 12 noon for 1.00 departure

Fri 2 March

General Meeting, LG Floor, Main Building, 1.00 – 2.00 pm.

Mon-Thurs 5–8 March

Strikes week 3

Thurs 8 March

International Women’s Day March. Assemble Russell Square, 1.00 pm

Mon-Fri 12-16 Mar

Strikes week 4

Join the UCU!

If you have received this bulletin as a non-member, and you are employed at Birkbeck, join the hundreds of colleagues who are already union members and sign up NOW!  Just follow this link to the online form and it will take only a few minutes:


General queries - John Kelly

T&S staff queries - Mike Berlin

USS pension queries – Nick Pronger

Picketing – Sophie Hope

FAQs about the strike -

Action Points

  • Come to the next meeting, Fri 2 March Main Building, Lower Ground Floor area, 1.00 – 2.00 pm
  • Tell your students about the dispute and the strike dates and urge them to write to the Chief Executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis,
  • Circulate this bulletin to all staff in your Dept to ensure that non-members can read about the dispute and hopefully join the union
  • Urge non-members to join at the following link:
  • Social media: spread news of the dispute through your Facebook and Twitter accounts
  • Join the picket!

Saturday 24 February 2018