UCU college workers in London take strike action in October 2021 (uploaded 15/12/2021)
UCU college workers in London take strike action in October 2021 (uploaded 15/12/2021)

Duncan Moore, Plymouth Socialist Party and UCU member (personal capacity)

University and College Union (UCU) members are voting on strike action at 33 colleges across England.

Since 2009, college staff have seen their pay fall by 35% in real terms. Now, with RPI inflation running at 11.1%, the Association of Colleges (AoC) representing college employers has recommended that colleges offer a pay ‘rise’ to staff of just 2.25%.

This comes one year after the government announced an 8.4% increase in funding for further education in England, the biggest rise in funding in more than a decade, as a result of sustained joint campaigning by the UCU and the AoC.

The UCU estimates that this extra funding means colleges now have an additional £400 million that could be spent on a decent pay rise for staff. But local colleges decide pay.

UCU is campaigning for national pay bargaining. The college strikes last autumn were coordinated, and as a result all those who took action won a better pay offer than the national recommendation.  

A UCU member at City College Plymouth, one of the 33 colleges where ballots are being held, spoke to the Socialist:

“We’re disrespected by the college executive. It’s not about quality of education anymore, it’s about ‘bums on seats’ and making money. Our workload increases year on year and yet our pay stays the same. The college is constantly restructuring and none of us feel safe in our jobs. Dozens of colleagues in my department who have only joined the union in the last couple of weeks have voted ‘yes’ to strike action which they’ve never done before. Staff turnover is so high, morale is so low, and we just feel like we can’t go on like this.”

I met this UCU member on the picket line at Plymouth train station on 25 June, where we were showing solidarity with the RMT strikers. The fight of railway workers for better pay, conditions and job security has galvanised workers in all sectors, including further education staff fighting on similar issues.

College unions jointly submitted a pay claim on 31 March for a pay rise of 10%, with a minimum uplift of £2,000. All unions in the sector must work together to force college bosses to give them the pay they deserve, and coordinate nationally with other unions to defend workers from the onslaught of the cost-of-living crisis.

The ballot closes on 15 July.