Socialist Worker

College principal forced into talks as Lambeth strikers stay united

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2410

Strikers remain united and solid

Strikers remain united and solid (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Talks began between bosses and the UCU union at Lambeth College today, Thursday. UCU members have been on indefinite strike since 3 June against hated new contracts.

The impact on the south London college has been massive. Enrolment is drastically down and classes are cancelled. No worker has returned to work during the strike – in fact more people have joined it.

Principal Mark Silverman said he would not negotiate while the strike continued. But the strength of the action has forced him to enter talks.

Pickets at the Clapham site of the college were in a buoyant mood this morning. Striker Alan told Socialist Worker, “What’s impressed me about the strike is the unity among us. There were some differences in strategy earlier in the week that led to some confusion.

“But now everyone’s come together and we are still strong.”

Strikers held a branch meeting yesterday ahead of today’s negotiations. They broke into their different schools so that everybody got a chance to have their say.

“It allowed for much greater participation that informed the basis for the talks,” said Alan. “We also agreed that everything that comes out of the negotiations has to come back and be ratified at a full branch meeting.”

Action

Strikers are discussing what action to take over summer if Silverman doesn’t back down. Striker Nadia told Socialist Worker, “Some people want to go back to get their pay over the holiday. But some were in favour of staying out over summer.”

She explained that August gives workers a good opportunity to hit enrolment. “When people say nothing happens over the summer, that’s not true,” she said. “We come back mid-August and have two weeks for enrolment.

“We do it for four hours a day in shifts. It’s a big job – we have to assess learners’ speaking and listening, and reading and writing skills. We interview them then assess the results.

“We need to make sure we put the right learner on the right level. One learner can take a lot of time.”

Alan said, “More and more people are moving towards saying they’d be prepared to stay out over the summer. I’m surprised at how many there are.”

Strikers have raised over £30,000 for their strike fund so far. Many relatively small UCU branches have made big donations – indicating that much more could be raised if necessary.

UCU president Liz Lawrence joined pickets at Clapham today. She told Socialist Worker, “The Lambeth strike is inspirational. They are getting support from branches around the country.

“I spoke at Imperial College this week and they made a £500 donation. The union can afford to sustain this strike over the summer – we’re a big union and it’s one college.”

Boost

The solidarity strikers have received has given them a real boost – keeping that support up can make all the difference to the dispute.

Striker Johnny described the solidarity as “astounding”.

“I’ve made new friends and comrades on the picket line,” he added. “In many workplaces they try and divide people. But now we’ve all exchanged email addresses. We’re a lot stronger now – and that matters for future disputes.”

Johnny said he wasn’t sure about what the union should do if no resolution comes from the talks.

But he said, “I would stay out for the summer if that was the decision that the branch made.

“They’ve not got us over a barrel by any means. And if this is such an important dispute, the union should make sure there’s enough money for it.”

As the talks continue trade unionists should bombard Lambeth College strikers with solidarity messages and donations to their campaign. Strikers can win.

Join workers on picket lines from 7am every day in Brixton, Clapham and Vauxhall and a mass meeting at Clapham every day at 11am. 
Organise collections or weekly levies to support the strike. Invite strikers to speak in your union or campaign meeting and rush messages of support to mandybrowncow@yahoo.com 
Lambeth College UCU and Unison unions have called a conference, What is Further and Adult Education for? It takes place from 11am, Saturday 5 July at City Heights School, Somerleyton Road, Brixton, SW9 8ND.

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