Socialist Worker

Colleges: all out against Tories' education cuts

by Sean Vernell, UCU national executive (pc)
Issue No. 2243

Lecturers have voted for strikes to defend their pensions, pay and jobs.

This is a major step forward in the battle against Tory cuts and shows workers everywhere that it is possible to fight.

The latest ballot results, announced this week, confirmed the strength of feeling among education workers.

College lecturers voted by a fantastic 76 percent for strikes to defend their Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS). The turnout was 28.9 percent.

They also voted by more than 64 percent for strikes over pay on a 28.5 percent turnout.

Some 72 percent of higher education lecturers in the TPS scheme backed strikes on a 32 percent turnout.

The first strikes will take place on Thursday of this week (see box below). And up to 120,000 further, adult and higher education lecturers will strike together on 24 March.

The shutdown will coincide with a day of action to oppose cuts to funding for English as a Second Language (Esol) provision.

It can be a day to unite different campaigns to defend education.

The Tories have declared war on public sector workers and lecturers are no exception.

The release of the Hutton report (see page 4) revealed what many feared—a massive and unjustified attack on the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

The pension scheme for lecturers in older universities, the Universities Superannuation Scheme, is also under attack.

If Hutton’s proposals go through, lecturers will lose tens of thousands of pounds through increased contributions, the move from a final salary scheme to a career average one and the shift to calculating payouts using the CPI measure of inflation.

Protect

At the same time, lecturers’ pay has been cut. The employers offered college lecturers an increase of just 0.2 percent last year—the worst ever. University lecturers were offered 0.4 percent.

Some in our union were concerned that members wouldn’t see pay as a big issue. But the vote proves clearly that they do.

If rises don’t match inflation, we face pay cuts this year of up to 8 percent.

Lecturers are also concerned about job losses. In almost every university and college, they are mounting.

One million 16-24 year olds are languishing on the dole—yet the government and employers want to cut even more jobs.

This dispute, though, is about far more than pay, pensions and jobs. The context of the dispute has given our campaign an extra dynamic.

The government’s assault on students has transformed it into one about defending access to education and opposing the government’s neoliberal agenda.

Lifting the cap on tuition fees has allowed the market to rip through the higher education system.

Scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance, and refusing to pay fees for those who want to learn English and are on income support, hits the vulnerable.

The wholesale privatisation of the sector is the end game.

We have already suffered from years of casualisation and marketisation—forcing colleges and universities to compete in a race to the bottom.

Further education has the second highest proportion of hourly-paid workers in the country (the catering industry has the most).

Broke

On 10 November, when 50,000 students and lecturers marched through London, they broke the consensus that cuts are inevitable.

The student activism that followed helped lecturers to believe that, not only can they resist these cuts, but there is no option but to fight.

Lecturers need to secure victories over our specific issues. But we also need to link up with other public sector unions to coordinate strike action.

Lecturers make up a small minority of those in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, for example, and we will need to unite with others to defend it.

There are still some in the union who want to retreat from national action.

To do so would be a huge mistake—and would disregard the clear votes for action that lecturers have delivered.

A combination of national and regional strikes, and action that focuses on the specific disputes, is the way to win.

This can create the conditions for victory in defence of education and public services.


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