Workers at Lambeth College were meeting to decide the next moves in their indefinite strike as Socialist Worker went to press.
The UCU union members at the south London college have been on strike since 3 June.
They are fighting vicious new contracts imposed by principal Mark Silverman. Silverman boasted that he wouldn’t enter negotiations with the union while the strike was ongoing. The strength of the action forced him into talks.
Yet Silverman has refused to back down on key elements of the new contracts—including slashing sick pay and holidays. Workers have shown their power over the last five weeks. Their action cancelled classes and hit enrolment.
Instead of flagging as time went on, management’s own figures show that more people joined the strike.
The action has been so solid that some workers have raised the idea of continuing the action over the summer break. The term ends on Friday of this week. But there are fears about surviving on strike pay if workers continue the action over the summer.
And there are some concerns about how effective the strike would be at a time when the college is much quieter.
However, striker Nadia pointed out that a lot of activity takes place in August—crucially enrolment. “It’s a big job,” she said.
“We have to assess learners’ speaking and listening, and reading and writing skills.
“We interview them, then assess the results. One learner can take a lot of time.”
And UCU president Liz Lawrence told Socialist Worker, “The union can afford to sustain this strike over the summer—we’re a big union and it’s one college.”
If the union leadership as a whole threw its entire weight behind the dispute it would give workers more confidence. But whatever they decide the strike has shown the strength of the union branch—and the potential to win.
Striker Alan told Socialist Worker, “The branch is very upbeat. “We genuinely feel that we are stronger now than we were when the strike began.”
Striker Johnny told Socialist Worker, “I’ve made new friends and comrades on the picket line.
“We’ve all exchanged email addresses. We’re a lot stronger now–and that matters for future disputes.”
If UCU members return to work they could reballot for strikes as early as 18 August and be out on strike again within weeks.
Silverman will hope that any break in the dispute will let momentum ebb away. Strikers must fight to make sure that doesn’t happen. The overwhelming messages of support and solidarity have made a real difference to strikers’ resolve.
Trade unionists across Britain should continue to bombard the strikers with support to show they aren’t alone.