Socialist Worker

Tower Hamlets College: all-out strike beats the cuts

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2171

Strikers from Tower Hamlets celebrated victory before marching back into work last week (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Strikers from Tower Hamlets celebrated victory before marching back into work last week (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Militant action works. That is the lesson from Tower Hamlets College in east London, where lecturers have beaten the threat of compulsory redundancies after four weeks on all-out strike.

Their victory sends a message to every boss and every worker in Britain – that manage­ment

can’t assume that they will get away with cuts and that if workers take the most powerful action they can win.

Workers met outside the college on Friday morning last week for a rally before marching back into work. The mood was upbeat and proud.

“First and foremost – we fought and we won,” said Mark, a UCU union rep to cheers and applause from the crowd.

“The war will go on – but we will go back to work stronger.”

The strike has achieved a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies across the college, including for admin and support workers, and teaching staff.

It has also saved a mentorship scheme for students and around 300 places in Esol (English for Speakers of Other Languages) – a vital educational resource for the local community.

The deal will also halt some proposed cuts to A-level hours.

Many posts have been safeguarded, while a number of workers will take enhanced voluntary redundancy and others will be redeployed.

Lecturers voted to accept the deal and return to work at a mass meeting on Thursday of last week.


The strike at Tower Hamlets College has been a breath of fresh air. New members joined the union throughout the dispute and were at the forefront of organising it.

Every day, several groups of strikers would go to speak at meetings, leaflet workplaces and shopping centres, or do collections.

The workers were celebrating this at their victory rally on Friday morning.

“Lots of people who have never been in a union before have been going off and speaking to other workers,” said striker Ian Crosson. “We’ve built the union up even stronger.”

Billie, a creative arts lecturer, is one of those who joined the union as preparations for strike action were underway.

“I had to join the union to be part of the battle,” she told Socialist Worker.

“People feel really good, it’s a real shot in the arm. All over the country people have been watching our dispute – our victory will give other people courage to fight.

“The principal hoped that we’d crumble but he misjudged the whole situation. Management want unions to be dead and so they thought we were. But we’ve shown that unions are alive and kicking.”

The leadership and innovation shown by new activists is inspirational.

But there was a strong union organisation in place before the strike – and the fact that socialists were well organised inside the college was an important factor in the success of the action.

As Julia, one of the strikers, put it, “Everyone has played a part in winning but without the strength of our reps, some people might not have followed.”


UCU national executive member Sean Vernell came to the rally on Friday to congratulate workers. Collections at his City and Islington College raised over £1,500.

“You’re an inspiration,” Sean told the rally. “I believe that this dispute is historic. It can be part of changing industrial relations in our favour. Every bullying manager and every free marketeer will be in shock.”

Brian Ingham, another member of the UCU’s executive, also pointed to the importance of the Tower Hamlets victory.

“This will be sending ripples through every college in Britain,” he told the workers. “Everyone in the union will feel a little bit taller now.”

The action at Tower Hamlets College is a model of how workers everywhere can beat cuts.

Other groups of workers should draw inspiration from this victory – and invite Tower Hamlets workers to their union branch or workplace to help share the lessons.

“We could not have won without militant action,” said Richard McEwan, joint UCU branch secretary at Tower Hamlets College.

“We won by challenging the market vision of education in the curriculum, uniting the community on the streets in defence of education, spreading the strike to other workplaces, and taking mass democratic all-out strike action as quickly as possible.”

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Tue 29 Sep 2009, 18:27 BST
Issue No. 2171
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