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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 September 2009

Tower Hamlets college

Management forced to retreat

A month of all-out strike action has forced Michael Farley, the principal of Tower Hamlets College in the East End of London, to withdraw compulsory redundancy notices to 13 teachers. The threatened staff have either agreed to redeployment, won their appeals or have accepted improved voluntary redundancy terms.

Pete Dickenson, UCU member

The dispute began at the end of the summer-term when approximately 25 full-time equivalent jobs (about 40 part-time posts) were axed, mainly from the English as a Second Language (ESOL) area. 1,000 ESOL places were to be cut. Also, student places on a Skills for Life programme were to be halved.

UCU, the lecturers' union, backed an all-out indefinite strike in August to defend 13 staff who were resisting the compulsory redundancy notices served on them by the college. The UCU members on strike remained determined and solid throughout the dispute, which was the first indefinite all-out action in the further education sector since the 1990s.

Maintaining unity and forcing the principal to withdraw the redundancy notices was a great achievement in the circumstances, since the strikers had to overcome personal hardship as well as worrying about their students, whose future was potentially put at risk by the management provoked dispute.

As well as getting the compulsory notices withdrawn, the voluntary redundancy terms were doubled, 300 places on ESOL courses were saved and a mentoring scheme for 700 young people was saved.

As a by-product of the dispute Unison won a no-compulsory redundancy pledge, which Farley was forced to offer to head off a strike by admin staff.

Pressure must be kept up to make sure the principal honours the agreement and to make sure existing terms and conditions are maintained. This dispute will undoubtedly be the first of many as education is threatened with further cuts.

Future actions will need to be linked and generalised across the FE sector and beyond.

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