Lecturers formed mass pickets outside Tower Hamlets college in east London today, on the first day of an all-out, indefinite strike.
The workers are striking against planned compulsory redundancies and course cuts at the college that would slash the number of English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) places and have a devastating impact on the wider community.
The action follows strikes, walkouts, protests and days of action last term against the plans.
Strikers were upbeat and confident on the picket lines.
“We want management to reinstate everyone who has been served with compulsory redundancies,” said Magdalena, a Maths teacher. “It's not just about jobs though – we don't want the closure of classes.
“The cuts are crazy at a time of recession. They will stop the most vulnerable and poorest people from getting into college – it's the opposite of what a college should be doing.”
Workers see the cuts as part of a wider attack on the kind of education the college provides. It is also a battle over the culture and ethos of the college.
Suleiman, a learning mentor at the college, said, “The college is acting like a private business. It's more profit-centred than people-centred.
“I joined the union because it has been fighting the cuts. You never know what will happen tomorrow, it could be you losing your job. I'm very optimistic though – we are very determined and are sticking together.”
Eugene, from the Maths department, added, “We're striking because we love our college, it's a real community college. I used to think if I won the lottery, I'd probably just work four days instead of five, but I'd still work here. But now the culture is changing so much that I wonder if I would still want to work here.
“This is the first time that Tower Hamlets college has tried to introduce compulsory redundancies. But we're absolutely solid – the only people who have gone in are managers.”
Other workers have rushed to give solidarity to the strikers. This morning, lecturers from other colleges, as well as teachers and others, were on the picket line to show their support. Richard McEwan, a UCU branch secretary at the college, reported that workers at City and Islington college had sent £200, while Unison members had sent £100.
Groups of strikers went off to visit local workplaces and shops to talk to people about the dispute and build support.
Trina, a basic literacy lecturer at Tower Hamlets college, visited Poplar fire station to talk to firefighters, who are also facing job losses, about the strike. “I only joined the union yesterday and now I'm on my first ever strike,” she said. “I think it's going really well. It's good that people are willing to go around and speak to other groups of workers.
“We have to stick together. If I wasn't in the union and anything happened to me then I'd be on my own. But if we're together then we can fight back.”
The firefighters promised to make a donation to the Tower Hamlets strikers, write to the local MP and send supporters to the picket line.
Lecturers at Tower Hamlets college are showing the best way to respond to cuts. At a time when thousands of workers are facing attacks or are fearful of attacks that may lie ahead, the strike at Tower Hamlets can give confidence to other workers to resist.
It is vital to build solidarity with the Tower Hamlets lecturers. Trade unionists and activists should visit the picket lines, with delegations, union banners and donations, and bend every muscle to make sure that the strikers win.
What you can do:
- Visit the picket lines at Poplar, E14 0AF, Arbour Square, E1 0PT and Bethnal Green, E2 6AB
- Send urgent messages of support to Richard McEwan (branch secretary) on 07532 364 638, Alison Lord (branch chair) on firstname.lastname@example.org, John Budis (branch secretary) email@example.com or Roberto Foth (branch secretary) on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Email the college principal to protest about the cuts on email@example.com
- Take a collection at work and send to Strike fund, c/o Keith Priddle, Tower Hamlets College, Arbour Square Site, E1 0PT
- Come to our public meeting to defend jobs and education – 3 September, 5pm, St Mathias Church, off Poplar High Street. Nearest tube, Poplar DLR.