Some 7,000 further education lecturers in the UCU union in London took strike action on Monday of this week as part of their battle against a below-inflation pay offer.
The strike took place on the same day as a TUC rally and lobby of parliament, which was attended by hundreds of people from across the public sector. Many different groups are in dispute over pay.
All six further education unions – UCU, Unison, GMB, ATL, Unite and ACM – have rejected an initial offer of 2.5 percent. They have put in a claim for 6 percent or £1,500, whichever is greater.
The unions met the employer, the Association of Colleges (AoC), to negotiate the initial offer last week.
The AoC tried to divide the unions by making an offer to everyone except UCU. The deal amounted to little more than a repackaging of the initial offer and was rejected by the unions.
Lecturers held lively picket lines across London on Monday. At Croydon College 30 pickets were joined by the Unison union branch secretary from Croydon council. Up to 20 lecturers held a picket at Lambeth college, which was joined by members of the NUT teachers’ union.
Lecturers reported that although some members had been unsure about the strike, the majority understood that they had no alternative but to fight the government’s attacks.
Jenny Sutton is a lecturer at the College of North East London. She told Socialist Worker, “The whole of education is under attack by the government.
“If we don’t stand up and fight now it will be the end of education for the working class and for older people who need a second chance.”
The lecturers’ strike gave a boost to the rally, which wasmarked by a deep anger with Labour and a determination to build public sector unity.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said, “I urge ministers to take a step back from the abyss.”
But many other union leaders went much further, attacking the idea that workers must continue to back Labour to stop the Tories getting elected.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, was applauded when she said, “I’m sick of the argument that by fighting back we might let the Tories in.
“It’s time to get real. The problem is not the people fighting back against the government but the people in government.”
Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, received a standing ovation for arguing for joint strike action by public sector workers. He said, “I say we take them on. We pick a date. And we stop work.”
Some 800,000 local government workers in the Unison union are balloting on whether to join the pay battle. The ballot closes on 20 June.