In March 2011 University lecturers went on strike against significant cuts to their pension scheme which included forcing employees to pay more while their employers pay less, and ending the final salary scheme for anyone new to the workforce.
Picket lines went up in every college and university across Britain totalling five strike days. Pensions are now political. Many students were also clear that these seemingly bureaucratic changes were part of a broader attack on higher education which affected them too. This is an attack that seeks to create divisions between baby boomers and those of us under 35, erasing the memory and sense of entitlement to something as basic as the right to retire without fear of poverty. Many students supported the strike, and at Goldsmiths College, University of London they took over management’s offices for 4 days – an interesting tactic whereby an occupation was used to enforce a picket line and prevent bosses from coming to work.
But the sexist nature of these attacks on pensions needs to be more strongly highlighted. For the proposed changes discriminate especially against any employee whose wishes to take a career break or to return to work part-time. They are therefore most likely to affect women with children – further limiting any choice we might have about how to combine work with family life. They will reinforce conservative and nuclear family arrangements, deterring fathers or non-biological family members from taking an equal part in childcare.
Less than one hundred years ago women were still fighting to study at universities on an equal basis with men. Until the Second World War, female lecturers at most universities were required to resign their posts on marriage. It is ironic (if it were not so predictable) that, just at the moment in which women have begun to enter a relatively prestigious profession in equal numbers to men, that profession becomes devalued and degraded. Academia today is still a comparatively welcoming space for feminists: but right now our feminism needs to extend beyond the words we write in books to struggling in our own workplaces against retrograde practices which divide and exploit in highly gendered ways.
By a member of Feminist Fightback