Over 100 pickets shut down Tower Hamlets College in east London last week, setting an example of how to fight the drastic cuts that are hitting education.
The militancy and speed of their response should be repeated at colleges up and down the country.
Management at Tower Hamlets College announced shocking cuts and redundancies that will hit the poorest and most vulnerable people in the borough.
As soon as workers got a whiff of the attacks they organised a ballot for action. But they didn’t simply wait to go through the official channels – they took unofficial strike action, catching management off guard and mobilising students and the wider community behind them.
The cuts threaten to halve provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol), despite the fact that there are already 800 people on the waiting list for Esol classes.
But lecturers, students and the community are fighting back. At 11am last Friday lecturers marched out of the college in their first official strike action against the cuts.
Some 70 UCU union members held a lively picket outside the Poplar site. Around 50 more marched from the Arbour Square site to join them.
“The cuts are disgusting,” Shahina Chowdhury, a sociology lecturer, told Socialist Worker.
“It will be hard for people to find Esol classes elsewhere and it means that the poorest kids will have no chance.”
Ahson Uddin, a learning mentor, told Socialist Worker, “They say they have to make cuts but on their current plan they will make a profit.
“But we don’t sell a product and we’re not here to make a profit. It’s completely the wrong ethos.”
Georgina George teaches Esol. “The whole community relies on the college,” she said.
“If people can’t speak English then they can’t do things like deal with their doctor or fill out application forms. They are permanently incapacitated in the world of work.
“Adult learners are learning Esol so they can help their children and communicate with them. We have to do something to stop the cuts.”
There was a confident and upbeat mood among the strikers. To the tune of Blame It On The Boogie, they sang, “Don’t blame it on the students, don’t blame it on the teachers, don’t blame it on the finance – blame it on the Farley.” Michael Farley is the college principal.
Alison Lord is the chair of the UCU branch at the Poplar site. She told Socialist Worker, “The strike is absolutely solid. People are out who have never been on strike before.”
The uncertainty of the redundancies is having an impact on workers.
One lecturer said, “People are really stressed and some aren’t sleeping properly. Nobody knows if they will still have a job in a week’s time.”
College workers in the Unison union made their own placards and marched out at lunchtime to show support for the lecturers. “This is a real community college – a lot of the workers were previously students here,” Kathy Harriott, the Unison rep at the Poplar site said. “We are not a business.”
The key to the fightback at Tower Hamlets has been the rapid response of UCU members. It is a lesson for every education worker.
Richard McEwan, joint branch secretary of UCU at the Poplar site, said, “Every time they try to intimidate us we respond collectively. The scale of the attacks means we need more militant action.”
Students and lecturers will face an avalanche of attacks when they return to colleges and universities in September.
But we are already seeing a taste of those attacks today – and resistance must start now.
Lecturers at Tower Hamlets were set to strike again on Wednesday of this week and to organise a lobby of the governors meeting as Socialist Worker went to press
Workers at colleges across the country took part in a day of action against cuts in jobs and education on Friday of last week.
Some have already won battles to save jobs, showing what is possible.