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Why are they still striking? Roar speaks to KCL Staff as the UCU strikes continue

Staff Writer Keir Holmes follows up with some staff on the picket line directly affected by the issues at the heart of the UCU strike, and finds insights as to why the recent agreement between KCL management and KCL UCU has since been discredited as little more than words on a screen.

Two weeks ago, Roar talked with some of the KCL staff members protesting against pensions cuts alongside a variety of other problems in working conditions. Following their strikes, it was announced that the KCL UCU and King’s College London had reached an agreement over the issues surrounding staff members’ pensions. Yet, according to the members of staff who are still demonstrating, the university soon betrayed its own words. Since then, Roar has been speaking to staff members who are participating in further strikes against the university in order to hear what they have to say about this agreement and the actions taken by the university after it was announced.

The atmosphere was tense. Some members of staff made calls for a marking boycott. Others suggested that staff should make it impossible for the university to give out degrees. One man, who claimed that he was in the process of leaving academia, was heard saying to the crowd: “Give me a job. I’ll do anything but teaching.”

President and Principal of King’s College London Shitij Kapur bore the brunt of the criticism from staff. Rumours that he would be showing up to the strikes turned out to be false. At one point, the crowd began to chant “Professor Kapur! Where are you?”

Such hostility may come as a shock to some, especially considering recent news that the KCL UCU and King’s College London had come to an agreement over pension disputes. To avoid this potential confusion, it is necessary to see what staff members participating in the strikes had to say about this agreement.

Dr Daniel Schillereff – Department of Geography

Roar: What are your thoughts on the KCL UCU and King’s College London’s agreement on the pensions dispute?

Dr Daniel Schillereff: The problem with this is that it was deeply duplicitous. On Thursday an announcement was made that there was a jointly signed letter between KCL UCU and the senior management of the college. As the day after this was the deadline for the universities to submit their response to the union proposal to Universities UK, everyone on the picket line and every colleague I spoke to took that to mean that they were in favour of the union proposal. Then, Universities UK said that, no, barely any universities have agreed to it. Then, on Tuesday last week, the principal sent out an email saying that we weren’t in favour of it. That was as low as it gets. Utterly duplicitous. To give a clear pointer that they’re in favour of the union proposal then not vote in favour of it is a real stab in the back. What’s on paper on that jointly signed letter is useful, but it’s a classic case of actions speaking louder than words.

Slightly separate but related, there’s a crowdfunded legal case that’s been brought to the court by the UCU branch lead here at King’s, Lawrence McGaughey, and another colleague from Bristol. They are presenting in front of a judge today for permission to sue the managers of the USS pension scheme over a number of different issues but, at its core, that they have not followed the appropriate rules in all sorts of ways. That is separate from the direct negotiations between the unions and the employers but, at the end of the day, the fact that it’s gotten to this stage is pretty tragic in its own ways. That we’re having to bring a legal case against our pension scheme’s managers because we’re so mismanaged by their approach to it all. It’s not a good situation.

Professor Alan Read – Department of English

R: What are your thoughts on the KCL UCU and King’s College London’s agreement on the pensions dispute?

Professor Alan Read: I was disappointed, as many staff are. I wouldn’t say all staff, but many staff are. I myself have been in the business for a very long time and I am particularly concerned about the security of those staff members who are, in the long run, going to lose so much of a core part of their earnings over the next 30 years or so. Pensions aren’t something that relates specifically to some kind of top-up or add-on after you finish working, but are instead part of the intrinsic relationship between the way we work over many years of a career and our security into the future. The commitment of the university and the university sector has always been built on trust around that relationship. So, I’m disappointed. I think that there needs to be far more talking, more clarity, more flexibility on all sides on how we are to move forward.

Dr Raphael Susewind – Department of International Development

R: What are your thoughts on the KCL UCU and King’s College London’s agreement on the pensions dispute?

Dr Raphael Susewind: I’m not quite sure which agreement has been reached, to be honest. I thought that we had agreed that the valuation was bullshit. This idea that in March 2020 when the stock market crashed they projected 30 years of 0% growth and can’t pay our pensions anymore is obviously flawed, and I thought that King’s had agreed to that. However, it turns out that, despite seeming to suggest in our statement that we need a new valuation and governance reform with the USS so that this doesn’t happen again, in their technical response to the USS they backtracked and went with the solution of 35% cuts. Or, in my case, 45% cuts as I’m relatively young. So my pension will be cut from £21,000 to £10,000.

Dr Esther de Bruijn – Department of English

R: What are your thoughts on the KCL UCU and King’s College London’s agreement on the pensions dispute?

Dr Esther de Bruijn: On Twitter, there was all of this celebration about the joint statement between management and the UCU. Other institutions were saying that it was great news and that their institutions would follow. A friend of mine informed me of this, celebrating what was happening. It seemed like it was a positive sign. Directly after that, the vote actually happened and it was just baffling. It seemed like this joint statement was just for show. It’s the performance of having an interest in students and faculty that is most disturbing and disgusting. It’s clear that cutting £100,000 off of our pensions means nothing to the institution.

According to sources both at the demonstration and on Twitter, Dr Lawrence McGaughey and Dr Neil Davies have won their first court case to sue the USS directors. Although it is certain that the hearing will take place after the 22nd of March, regarding the strikes, it is unclear what will happen next.

Former Culture Editor for Roar News.

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