By Max Savage and Ellen Musgrove
“…in the short term I would be happy to reconstruct a social democratic compromise which aimed to decrease inequalities…I recognise that this will not remove the gross injustices inherent within capitalist structures. To reiterate, capitalism is the enemy, but neoliberalism seems to me to be worse than social democracy. Perhaps we should set our sights a little lower than capitalism and attempt to slay the neoliberal beast.”
– Adam Tickell, ‘Reflections on “Activism and the Academy”’ (1995)
Professor Tickell, once apparently an advocate of radical social reorganisation, is now Sussex University Vice Chancellor and one of neoliberalism’s torchbearers in the UK higher education sector. While it is tempting to conclude from this transformation that Tickle is a duplicitous, cowardly and parasitic individual, there is in fact a larger point to be drawn: very often our politics are not forged by our own choosing but by our position. Once you are earning an obscene salary and have turned a blind eye to staff on your campus earning under the living wage, perhaps neoliberalism isn’t so beastly after all.
As of last week, Adam Tickell was the only VC in the country on Universities UK’s (UUK) negotiating team at the ongoing discussions surrounding changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The changes being proposed will be devastating for academic workers’ rights across the UK. Staff are likely to lose around £10,000 a year, amounting to around £200,000 across the course of an average pension. That’s a lot less funding for paying the mortgage, paying the bills, or helping out children stuck with dead-end jobs to overcome their debts. A pension is constituted of deferred wages – the slashing of these sums is therefore an attack not just on working conditions now or in the future but also a knife in the back for decades of work already done.
While it may seem depressing that Tickell, someone once so critical of neoliberal capitalism, could become so complicit, there is also strength to be drawn from it. Because we know what position we are in as well. We know that as students we are indebted, underfunded, left to struggle with our growing mental health crisis and our rapidly decreasing rights in ever more necessary part time jobs. We know that as staff our wages are shrinking in real terms and that the British value of democracy, whose deficit we point out so readily abroad, has not entered its own lauded universities. And we know that there are many more of us than there are parasites like Tickell. Their obscene wealth is a product of our labour, and winning this strike is a vital part of reimagining our higher education.
Given Tickell’s frontline position in the UUK pension negotiations, Sussex University campus is now the primary battleground for mobilising against UUK’s attack on staff pensions. This is why Sussex Supports the Strike have called a national demo for this Thursday to show Tickell and his cronies that we will not ignore this callous outflanking of staff, who go above and beyond their remit to care for students and preserve education.
the energy and drive to slay the beast of neoliberalism still exists on our campuses
And it is not just these current academic staff we are fighting for, though that in itself would be a just enough cause. Now they come for the academics, but if we do not win here then how can we ever hope to ensure the future of all staff and students who are facing, or have already faced, the ravages of neoliberal privatisation? This strike is the biggest industrial action in the history of the higher education sector, and Sussex University is now the rallying point for all those who support it.
We can show lead negotiator Tickle that the energy and drive to slay the beast of neoliberalism still exists on our campuses – and that when it falls he and his ilk will fall with it.
The Break UUK National Demo will take place on Thursday March 15th at the University of Sussex, Brighton, starting at 1pm. For more information on how you can organise or join a group attending the demo from elsewhere in the country, see here.
Featured image courtesy of Sussex UCU
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