Plymouth FE UCU strike
Plymouth FE UCU strike

Duncan Moore, Plymouth UCU member, personal capacity

University and College Union (UCU) members struck on 13-15 November at eleven further education (FE) colleges across England.

The dispute, launched by the UCU for a 15.4% pay rise, action on workloads, and binding national negotiations, saw staff at 85 colleges across England balloted for strike action.

Of these, 43 missed the Tories’ anti-democratic strike ballot thresholds, despite 90% of those who voted backing strike action.

A further 35 colleges have since settled for pay rises of between 6.5 and 8.5%. That the mere threat of strike action was enough to force college employers to offer far bigger pay rises than they were at first willing to concede proves that striking works, and will embolden UCU members in the battles to come.

These pay offers go a little way to addressing the 35% cut in real pay suffered by further education lecturers since 2009. But crippling understaffing and unsustainable workloads continue to blight the sector.

The current round of strike ballots have won some pay improvements for many FE staff already, and those at colleges going ahead with strikes can fight to win more.

But we need a national bargaining framework for the sector, as our colleagues in schools have. At present, outcomes of national pay talks are non-binding, with college bosses free to ignore the recommendations of the employers’ body, the Association of Colleges.

While continuing to build support for this wave of FE strikes, reps and activists across our union should prepare the ground to build towards an aggregated, nationwide ballot in future pay rounds, to beat the Tories’ anti-union thresholds and fight for binding national agreements on pay and workloads. We also need to campaign for a strong union leadership, with a national executive committee prepared to fight for all our members and a general secretary who will lead from the front.

  • Duncan Moore has won sufficient nominations to stand for a national Further Education seat in the NEC elections that will take place in early 2024

Pay us already!

Ian Pattison reports from the picket line

Whistles, tambourine, megaphone, wailing sirens, and a sea of pink placards. You couldn’t miss the picket line at Conel College’s Enfield campus.

UCU rep Sue Ives-Moiba, spoke to striking workers. “What are we worth? We are worth more than the management are offering us.”

Then the strikers started chanting:

“What do we want?”

“More pay!”

“When do we want it?”

“Last year!” the crowd chanted back.