Student Council rejected two rival motions supporting and opposing the lecturers’ strike organized by UCU.
Lecturers at 61 universities, including Newcastle, have voted to strike on 14 days across February and March in rejection of changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) that could see their pensions reduced.
The USS plans to reduce the amount employers such as Newcastle University pay into the scheme, but UCU, the main trade union representing academic staff, argues that this will leave lecturers worse off.
Ronnie Reid, the Students’ Union’s president, proposed a motion calling for NUSU to officially oppose UCU’s position. Emily Sherwood, Marginalised Genders Officer at NUSU, proposed a counter motion where NUSU would support the lecturers’ strike.
Neither motion was ultimately accepted by Student Council. Reid’s motion fell well short of the required 50% support, while Sherwood’s motion gained 48% and so also failed.
Reid’s motion developed from a statement he published on his official NUSU President Facebook page on 1 February. In this statement Reid expressed his belief that unless universities can contribute less to the USS they will be forced to either cut service provision or raise tuition fees. His motion at Thursday’s Council meeting was designed to engage students in discussion and develop NUSU’s official stance in a transparent and democratic manner.
The motion, however, attracted widespread opposition from students, many of whom organised the motion in support of the strikes. While Sherwood proposed and presented the motion, many other students, including other Part Time Officers and even whole student societies such as the Young Greens and the Working Class Students Network seconded the motion.
“NUSU will fully focus on supporting all students that may be impacted by the action"
Ronnie Reid, NUSU President
A record number of students applied for the 20 casual places, and even those who were unsuccessful in earning a voting place still attended, making the History Room a crowded and stuffy room for the long meeting.
Many of the Council members speaking for and against both motions had pre-prepared statements with well-researched arguments. Chair of Council Errol Kerr strictly enforced time limits on speeches and expressly stated that personal or offensive comments would not be allowed.
At an open meeting about the strikes and their potential impact on students earlier in the afternoon Reid was heckled by audience members, and tensions were running high in the lead up to the Council meeting.
After Reid’s motion was heavily rejected he shifted his position to argue that NUSU should not present a single stance on the strikes when there was clearly such diversity in student opinion. He also stressed that he respected the democratic process and commended the high turnout at Council.
Sherwood’s motion specifically called for the Union’s Sabbatical Officers to “ensure NUSU expresses support for the actions of the striking lecturers”. Reid proposed an amendment removing this resolution, concerned that Sabbatical Officers would be locked in to a single stance which they would be unable to adjust regardless of future developments. Sherwood did not accept this amendment and so it went to a vote of Council members, who promptly rejected it. This was soon proved insignificant, however, since the motion was itself voted down. Sherwood then announced their resignation from their role as Marginalised Genders Officer.
Reid said after the meeting: “As a result of the Student Council meeting of 8 February, it is right that NUSU will take a neutral stance on the proposed industrial strikes beginning on 22 February.
“NUSU will fully focus on supporting all students that may be impacted by the action. This includes gaining ring fenced assurances on PEC forms for affected dissertations and assignments.’’