The drive for a united pay revolt across the unions received a blow last weekend after a decision by further education lecturers in the UCU union at a special sector pay conference.
The union’s national executive put a motion to the conference to ballot members on management’s latest pay offer with a recommendation to reject it.
But the conference voted by 61 to 54 to ballot members with a recommendation to accept the deal.
The offer is a below-inflation deal of 3.2 percent, which works out at effectively 2.7 percent over the whole year. As inflation is at 4.8 percent, this deal is a pay cut and is well below the union’s claim of 6 percent.
The decision to recommend acceptance will come as a disappointment to many of those lecturers who struck on 24 April alongside other trade unionists for decent pay.
Despite the decision there is still widespread anger among many lecturers and an enthusiasm to fight over pay – and activists need to build upon this to launch a campaign to reject the deal.
“The vote reflects the unevenness in the union,” said David Swanson, branch secretary of Manchester college UCU.
“A large number of colleges have held big meetings and voted to reject the offer. But there is a layer of branches that are not really connected – they don’t have branch activists or are demoralised.
“The decision also shows that we need to build up rank and file networks on the ground.
“Activists need to think about what they are doing in their workplaces. It’s not enough to rely on having a left leadership.
“But I don’t believe that there is any college where we couldn’t win a vote to reject the deal and strike. It’s all to play for and we have to campaign hard for a no vote in the ballot.”
Gordon Brown’s attack on public sector pay comes at a time when millions are being hit by the soaring cost of living. The looming recession will only worsen living standards – unless workers fight back.
The potential for further joint action that could pull in other groups of workers exists. The NUT and PCS unions are due to begin ballots for strike action over pay that could see more strikes in November.
The bigger the no vote in the UCU, the bigger the base for building resistance in the union – not just over pay but over the marketisation of education, and cuts to adult and further education.
Activists in all three unions need to pull out all the stops to win the ballots and turn this potential into reality. The UCU ballot begins on Monday of next week.
The Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning (CALL) is being launched on Tuesday of next week. It aims to bring together activists to campaign against attacks on further and adult education.
The launch meeting is next Tuesday 30 September, 5pm, at the UCU conference centre, Britannia Street. Go to » www.callcampaign.org.uk
The UCU Left conference takes place on Saturday 4 October at Dragon Hall, 17 Stuckeley Street, London. Go to » www.uculeft.devisland.net