Striking workers who are fighting for jobs and education at Tower Hamlets College in east London are growing more determined by the day – and their fantastic action has forced management to backtrack.
Lecturers are in their third week of all-out, indefinite strike action against planned course closures and job cuts.
The cuts would abolish 1,000 English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) places.
Bosses have now said that they will try to redeploy 13 workers who were made redundant over the summer and have offered an improved redundancy package for those they fail to redeploy.
But this offer does not rule out job cuts – and a mass meeting of pickets on Monday overwhelmingly rejected it.
“We know there are jobs there for people,” said Richard McEwan, a branch secretary of the UCU union at the college. “We voted to continue the strike until we have a guarantee that none of the 13 workers will be forced out of their jobs.”
The strike takes place at a time when attacks on education are slashing courses in towns and cities across Britain and threatening to throw thousands more workers on the dole.
The crisis hits the most vulnerable students the hardest. In Tower Hamlets, this has created bitter anger and widespread support for the strikers.
Fabrizio teaches Esol at an outreach centre linked to the college. “It is mainly women who come to learn English at the outreach centres – housewives and mothers,” he told Socialist Worker.
“These are people who live relatively secluded lives and don’t have the confidence to come to a big college like Tower Hamlets.
“Outreach centres make learning Esol more accessible. They have made a huge impact on integration and on the
students’ lives. I took a group of women to join the local library – they had never had the confidence to go in before.
“But the principal wants to cut the number of outreach courses that we offer. My job isn’t on the line but that doesn’t matter. We are fighting for education and for the community.”
Amy Jowett teaches Esol at one of the outreach centres that is facing the axe. “Students will have to travel a lot further to have any chance of learning English, but a lot of them are older or have health problems,” she told Socialist Worker.
“The cuts will take away people’s chance to improve their lives.”
The fact that the cuts are linked to part of a neoliberal agenda in education is adding to the anger.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “Tower Hamlets College has £6 million in reserve but it is still trying to cut jobs. Why does a college want to make a profit?”
Unfortunately Tower Hamlets College workers in the Unison union this week voted not to strike against the cuts by 13 votes to 12.
But Fabrizio says that the mood among strikers is growing more determined. “We are feeling more positive now because we’ve forced the principal, Michael Farley, to negotiate,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Everywhere we go people tell us, ‘We’re watching you, we hope you win.’”
Send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org and send money to Strike Fund, c/o Keith Priddle, Tower Hamlets College, Arbour Square, London E1 0PT