Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/417/4753
FE colleges on strike!
LECTURERS AT many further education (FE) colleges in England were on strike on 16 November in a battle for a fair pay deal. Socialist Party members across the country sent us reports from the picket lines.
THE HEADLINES of the local Huddersfield press screamed 'Tech Fury' following the successful lecturers' strike. It coincided with the all-out strike by the college's caretakers, which is now in its fourth week. Joint NATFHE and UNISON picket lines were on all entrances to the college.
NATFHE branch Secretary, Marie Lewis, explained what has been happening at the college over the last few years. The government has cut funding for adult education classes and therefore fees have gone up. Yet 80% of students at the college are over 19. Numbers are now starting to drop as mature students cannot afford the extra costs.
So far students have collected 1,000 signatures in protest at the cuts. The college is also axing vocational courses, affecting staff numbers and staff morale. There have been a handful of voluntary redundancies and all classes are down.
The college management are attempting to bypass union consultation and negotiation. The new college principal, Chris Sadler, imposed a pay deal without any negotiation, it was just announced at a staff meeting! Staff were given 2% from last August and 0.8% from January, falling far short of the national claim.
The caretakers' strike is having a big impact. Management are ignoring basic health and safety, as well as security. A class of students were locked in the college one day, and had to wander around in the dark for almost an hour until they could find their way out!
The caretakers' strike began straight after half term. There are 19 of them and almost all of them are involved in regular picket duty.
15 cleaners have so far refused to cross picket lines and are being sustained by the union hardship fund. The management are trying to recruit extra cleaners but on their wages, they are not having much success. So managers and personnel officers have to get up at the crack of dawn, don their marigolds and get their hands dirty!
Dave Ellis, UNISON steward, came to speak to the Socialist Party in the first week of the dispute. The background to their pay claim was the victory for all school caretakers, including the Jarvis-employed workers, to secure a big pay rise last year.
Naturally UNISON informed the college caretakers they were now even more underpaid. The workforce is on two different rates of pay, both under £12,000 a year. Kirklees school caretakers now start on around £15,000 and can earn up to £22,000.
A claim was lodged in 2004 which the college knocked back. After a successful strike ballot, all they could promise was job evaluation next year.
Dave explained to his members that they would have to prepare for an all-out strike. In his experience, one-day or even five-day strikes just give managers time to ride out the storm. The members voted overwhelmingly to support his call. All those who voted against the action have been on the picket line. The strike remains solid.
Dave is determined his members will not be undersold. He told us: "You can go to management and ask for the moon, you might not get it but at least you tried. But if you go and ask for peanuts, peanuts is all you will get."
Dave was impressed with the seriousness of our younger members and explained that the long-term solution to low pay was a socialist government, linked to a socialist world! No argument with that.
Socialist Party members have been visiting freezing picket lines regularly and we are now organising the brilliant young students who joined the mass picket last week. They too have been threatened by the college principal about their future conduct.
- Solidarity messages of support and donations are vital. Send to Kirklees UNISON, 20 Queen Street, Huddersfield 01484 511826. Dave is available to speak at union branches and Party meetings, contact Mike Forster 07887668740.
London - City and Islington college
NATFHE MEMBERS at City and Islington College in London organised a local march to defend education and to demand equal pay for equal work.
A large proportion of workers in the education sector are only paid for the hours they are at work.
This leaves them without pay during school holidays. According to speakers at the rally, only catering has a higher degree of casualised labour in Britain today.
The socialist spoke to Leila Gorbach, an adult literacy teacher at City and Islington College.
Leila explained that they were out on strike because they were left with no other choice as the college had failed to implement all aspects of the pay agreement which had been negotiated for August last year.
The majority of teaching staff at City and Islington College are paid hourly and therefore are incredibly exploited. This coincides with a general roll back in working conditions in other areas. As part of privatisation of education and other services, management want to pay less wages.
"Being a teacher on hourly pay has very little job security. We are currently paid about £22 an hour which maybe sounds a lot but we are only paid for teaching time. It does not account for preparation or administration, or for all the other tasks that are demanded.
"There is a need for further action if our demands are not met. This is a political issue. Privatisation of education and other services is a clear result of Tony Blair's New Labour policies."
NATFHE Pickets at Freemen's campus of Leicester college were well prepared. Lecturers from the catering department had a mobile barbecue to supply pickets with bacon rolls! But they were there for serious reasons.
One picket said:
"It is not just about the money, it is also about feeling valued. I do many hours of unpaid overtime.
"If you worked out what we are paid based on our real hours then it may well be less than the minimum wage!"
Leicester university Socialist Students delivered a letter of support to the picket line.
Lancashire and Manchester
SOCIALIST PARTY members visited colleges across Lancashire, including Lancaster, Preston and Blackburn.
At Manchester's City College, the pickets and supportive students were even joined by "Sooty" and "Sweep"!
City College lecturers also walked out on 15 November as management still refuse to implement the national pay agreement.
Lecturing was completely shut down on both days, with staff protesting at increased workload, loss of 12 days holiday and the restructuring of departments, leading to higher workload and less pay.
The annual hiring and firing of temporary staff and a drip-feed of redundancies are blatant management attempts to undermine morale and the union.
A lecturer from Wigan College reported how, compared to an earlier local ballot, the vote for national strike action had significantly strengthened - provoked by the merger of Wigan and Leigh Colleges, and the threat to FE-based sixth forms as the government pushes for "skills-based learning" across further education.
In The Socialist 24 November 2005: