Socialist Worker

Higher and further education workers strike for decent pay

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2382

The picket line at Barnsley College this morning

The picket line at Barnsley College this morning (Pic: George Arthur)


Education workers across four unions struck together on Tuesday of this week in a fight for decent pay. The walkout hit universities and colleges across Britain. It brought together workers in the UCU, Unite, Unison and EIS unions.

Alan Pike is a Unison rep at London Metropolitan University. He told Socialist Worker, “The strength of feeling has definitely increased since our last strike in October. Union membership is increasing. People know that national strikes have won things in the past, they know strikes are effective.”

Rob Murthwaite is a UCU rep at London Met. “The strike is fairly solid,” he said. “People are already talking about what they can do in January—and not people who are militant. It's a good sign.”

Most of those striking face a below-inflation 1 percent pay deal. For college lecturers the situation is even worse—bosses want to impose a 0.7 percent deal on them, a substantial cut at the current rate of inflation. The real value of workers’ pay has fallen fast as the cost of living soars—and it’s having a huge impact on workers’ lives. 

Jo is a Unite rep at the University of Leeds. She told Socialist Worker, “A lot of people are finding it harder as the cost of living goes up. I'm striking in solidarity with the 4,000 workers in higher education who aren't on the living wage. Universities can easily afford it.” Jo said she is “not normally an active member. But I felt I wanted to show my support, especially as the unions are out together.”

Support

The action followed a walkout in universities on 31 October. Both strikes won widespread support from other trade unionists and students. Strikers reported big picket lines across Britain.

The strike was solid at Barnsley College, with pickets at all the town centre strikes. Many new members of staff were striking for the first time. Unions are growing out of the dispute.

And in Edinburgh, one of several universities where students have been occupying in support of the strike, senior lecturer Tony Kinder was one of 50 pickets. He said, “The university is paying poverty wages. Who wants to live in a world where they can't feed their children?”

Pickets were pleased to see students arrive to show support at Kingston University too. UCU chair Andrew Higginbottom told Socialist Worker, “We’re trying to build a fighting alliance between all staff and students to defend education. To win requires broader and deeper mobilisation, a political culture where collective action means everyone is out and mobilised.”

Anna Brynolf, Unison branch treasurer at London’s South Bank University, told Socialist Worker, “Our membership is up this year. And the picket line is stronger this time.” Paul Blackledge, a UCU member at Leeds Met University, was recruiting someone to the union on the picket line. There are decent numbers of pickets here,” he said.

Mumtaz, another UCU member there, added, "The mood is positive. There's lots of tooting and hooting from cars going past. I think the strategy has to go beyond just a day here and there. I'd like to see the TUC come into the fray too.”

After the morning’s picket lines thousands of strikers and supporters were preparing to join rallies and marches.


More strike news

At Barnsley College the strike was solid. Some were on a picket for the first time and the union has recruited in the run-up to action. Greg O'Brien and Kathryn Hays told Socialist Worker they thought it must be difficult for newer staff and student teachers to survive. But were pleased they were striking and that the union is fighting back to defend pay and education for future generations.

"We're on strike because we believe a line has to be drawn,” London College of Fashion UCU rep Rupert Waldron told Socialist Worker. "There is a lot of anxiety among staff who can no longer afford to live where they work.” Commenting on the pay offer UCU picket Laura Avery said, "It stinks! I'm going to have to sell up and leave London."

Blackburn College had nearly 30 strikers picketing. Two scabs were seen climbing over a wall at the back of the college because they were too shamefaced to cross the picket line. Strikers were also out at Burnley College and Nelson and Colne College.

Teachers in the supported learning group at South and City College Birmingham were out from 7am this morning in solidarity with fellow strikers across BritainOne striker told Socialist Worker, "A community needs education not people making a profit from education. It’s about them trying to push out the FE altogether."

Unite member and Glasgow university lab technician Andy told Socialist Worker, “The university is becoming more business-like. We've got to make a stand to show we have the power. Another Unite member was angry that bosses drafted in staff to keep buildings open saying, “if they can pay these workers then that money could have been given to us.” One Unison member thought some were being “too polite” and to be more effective “we need more on the picket lines to shut down the university."

Around 40 students joined the picket lines at Kingston UniversityThe UCU chair there, Andrew Higginbottom, said, “We want a commitment for pay to keep up with cost of living increases. Why should our families take a cut?" Workers and students are now discussing the next steps and organising around action short of a strike to continue the momentum.

Unite members at Liverpool university voted at an outdoor meeting to reject a call from union officials to call off their strike the following day against a new contract. Workers picketing the security offices were angry saying their jobs would be first to go if they were not on strike tomorrow. Ste from Unison said, “Coming out one or two days lets the bosses make other arrangements. We should hit them where it hurts.” 

Thanks to Alex May, Alistair Farrow, Andrew Robbins, Fran Manning, Jimoh Folarin, Josh Brown, Lee Short, Lorna McKinnon and Phil Webster

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