Socialist Worker

Conel cuts are an attack on working class education

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2253

Tory cuts threaten to destroy thousands of education jobs—and drive working class people out of education.

Some college managements are using national funding cuts as an excuse to restructure education and attack union branches.

At the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (Conel), management wants to sack people in the name of cost-cutting. But it has the money to keep the jobs. The real motivation is union-busting.

Jenny Sutton, a UCU union rep at Conel, said, “Some 154 jobs are in the redundancy pool, including most of our union branch officers.

“The cuts are a direct attack on working class education. They will create ghettos of people only equipped for low-paid jobs.”

Conel lecturers were set to begin a ballot for strikes on Thursday. They will ballot alongside workers from Hackney College and Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College—and hope to take part in coordinated strikes in June.

The ballot ends on 7 June.

Jenny described a state of constant war between management and the union.

She said, “We fought and won a struggle to get a pay agreement implemented and to move hourly-paid lecturers onto permanent contracts after four years’ continuous service.

Management

“But it wasn’t the end—management then tried to get rid of hourly-paid lecturers before they had to give them permanent contracts.”

Jenny pointed to the success of the union in resisting attacks—and said this is why management want to smash it.

“We have held management back on imposing a new punitive observation policy,” she said. “The vice principal will try to introduce it next year—the third attempt in her four years here.

“In February, UCU members passed unanimous motions of no confidence in her. We declared open war and said to the governors—she’s got to go.

“Management want revenge. They know that the only way to implement the attacks is to eliminate established staff and the union.”

Management is putting pressure on lecturers to take voluntary redundancy in return for an enhanced redundancy package—if they apply early.

Jenny described it as “holding a gun to people’s heads”.

She said, “If you think you’ve got a poor chance of keeping your job, you’ve got rent or a mortgage, and you could get more money by leaving now, that’s a lot of pressure.”

And there is a more sinister outcome. “If people sign up they waive any right to challenge their redundancy or to take management to an employment tribunal,” Jenny added.

Outcome

“We think the cuts are about institutionalising casualisation and management will replace some workers with agency workers or hourly-paid lecturers. So we are saying don’t go for voluntary redundancy.”

The impact of “voluntary” cuts is already being felt at Conel. Much of the UCU branch committee was lost in a round of voluntary redundancies three years ago.

But the fact that management is targeting the union shows its power—and there is clearly a mood to fight. Some 70 workers came to a UCU branch meeting at Conel last week, called at a day’s notice.

The meeting was opened to include Unison union members and those in no union.

“People are stepping up to support their colleagues whose jobs are at risk,” said Jenny.

“Management won’t listen—but strikes will damage them. They hate the bad publicity.

“We want UCU nationally to put its weight behind the campaign and Sally Hunt, our general secretary, to meet with us and to write to our principal. We face a national jobs fight and we need to fight together.”

Send messages of support to jsutton@staff.conel.ac.uk


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