Socialist Worker

Strikers take on job cuts at south London college

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2456

Lesoco workers on the picket line in Camberwell

Lesoco workers on the picket line in Camberwell (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Workers at Lewisham and Southwark College (Lesoco) struck today, Thursday, in defence of jobs and education.

The UCU union members at the south London college face a massive assault. Bosses have threatened over 300 redundancies and a swathe of cuts including closing the Camberwell site completely.

Toyin Coker was on the picket line in Camberwell. He told Socialist Worker, "If this site is closed it will have a big impact on students and the area. It’s the only college in this area—if it goes, there’s nothing.

"Everybody’s concerned. But we are in limbo as we don’t know exactly what the restructuring would mean."

Mariette Clarkson said the strike is about much more than one college—it is about defending access to education.

"They are targeting a place where they think people have no voice," she told Socialist Worker.

"There’s a big immigrant population here and they want the chance to work and contribute. But if they can’t learn English they won’t get the chance.

"The cuts will just make the gap between rich and poor bigger."

Passers-by stopped to sign a petition against the cuts and cars tooted their horns in support. Agency staff at the college said the agency had contacted them to instruct them to go into work—and some pickets thought this would be inevitable.

But agency worker Faye refused to cross the picket line and joined it instead.

"Vulnerable learners come here," she explained. "They should keep this college here for them."

Vice principal Ian Rule came out to "make sure students can access education—leading to angry responses from pickets.

As Toyin put it, "They say we’re disrupting students’ learning. But they want to close an entire site."

College management has pointed to falling student numbers to justify cuts. But as Mariette said, "Student numbers haven’t fallen—courses have been cut. Over 1,000 people are on waiting lists to study here."

Rule eventually gave up and went back inside.

Students furious at the cuts also joined the picket line.

One told Socialist Worker, "We live round here. Where are we going to go if this closes? We can’t afford the bus fares to go anywhere else.

"They say we have to learn English to fill in forms and get citizenship. The cuts don’t make sense.

"If we learn the language we can go out to work and pay taxes. If we can’t, we’re stuck on benefits at home."

Strikers also picketed the college’s three other sites in Lewisham, Waterloo and Deptford and planned to rally at lunchtime.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.