Tory chancellor George Osborne announced savage new cuts to education spending last week.
He slashed £450 million from the Department for Education’s non-schools budget and £450 million from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The cuts were part of £3 billion extra “savings” Osborne unveiled. They are expected to fall heavily on further education—and snatch away the chance of millions of working class people to go to college.
The Tories’ new offensive is well underway—but the fightback is too.
UCU union members at some 13 colleges across London are balloting for strikes and workers hope to walk out together later this month.
Students and lecturers at Hackney College were set to march on Thursday of next week against cuts. UCU members there have backed strikes by 90 percent.
Lecturers at Sheffield College were set to strike on Wednesday of this week against cuts. And the UCU plans a national lobby of parliament on Tuesday of next week.
UCU members at Lewisham and Southwark College struck on Thursday of last week. Bosses want cuts that put over 300 jobs at risk and would close an entire site of the college in Camberwell, south London.
Strikers on the picket line in Camberwell explained how cuts to further education hit the most vulnerable people the hardest.
“It’s the only college in this area,” Toyin Coker told Socialist Worker. “If it goes, there’s nothing. It will have a big impact.”
As with colleges elsewhere, workers are battling bosses who see education in terms of profit.
“They’re just looking at the money,” said Toyin. “They are not accountable. They just come in, make cuts then move on.”
Mariette Clarkson added, “They are targeting a place where they think people have no voice.
“There’s a big immigrant population here and they want the chance to work. But if they can’t learn English they won’t get the chance.”
Over 1,000 people are on waiting lists to study at the college.
Passers-by stopped to sign a petition against the cuts. Cars tooted in support.
Bosses may have hoped agency staff, whose agency instructed them to work, would undermine the strike.
But agency worker Faye refused to cross the picket line and joined it instead. “Vulnerable learners come here,” she told Socialist Worker. “They should keep the college here for them.”
Students furious at the cuts joined the picket line. One said, “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.”