FURTHER education lecturers face a battle over pay this autumn that goes to the heart of what it means to have a national union.
The Natfhe lecturers’ union is preparing to ballot for a strike, probably on 5 November, the day of the planned civil service strike.
Ever since colleges were turned into competing business units over a decade ago, national negotiations with the employers’ body, the AoC, have not delivered national pay rises.
Local colleges on the ground often don’t pay the national figure they agreed to. That’s why this is more than just another routine pay round battle.
Two years ago we took the first real national strikes in a decade, with everybody out for two days to get a decent rise.
Activists pushed to escalate the action, but our union leaders told us they had got the best deal possible.
The two-year national agreement offered a rise, but also a change to pay structures to move towards parity with school teachers doing the same job.
It now looks like 90 percent of colleges are not honouring the agreement to restructure the pay scales. Some are not even giving the basic pay rise.
So what is at stake is not just pay, but whether the union can secure any national agreements.
It was clear from a recent meeting of the Natfhe Rank and File activists’ network that the betrayal of promises on pay is part of a wider offensive by college bosses.
Earlier this year staff at Leicester College had to strike for four weeks to head off a non-negotiated contract that slashed our conditions.
At Hackney Community College about 71 lecturers now face the sack, and South Nottinghamshire College is trying to impose new contracts.
A number of college principals are also beginning to raise the spectre of performance-related pay.
This is being imposed at North Lindsey College.
The background to these attacks is the complete failure of Labour to reverse the underfunding of further education.
But we can take on Labour and union-busting principals.
At Leicester College we were overwhelmed by the solidarity we received from trade unionists far and wide when we took action.
Activists are already saying that a couple of days of action will not be enough to defeat the employers nationally.
We need to hit hard, and we need to escalate until we win. If the strike happens in November as planned we will be out alongside other workers like civil service workers.
Pay is only the tip of the iceberg, but it can be a focus for the unity needed to defend ourselves on several fronts.
LECTURERS AT London Metropolitan University, who face the sack if they do not sign inferior contracts, were fighting off a legal challenge to their strike, planned for this week, as Socialist Worker went to press.