College workers across England are on strike today, Wednesday, against a 0 percent pay "offer".
UCU and Unison union members are striking together for the first time in ten years. They want a £1 an hour pay rise for all.
Mandy Brown is branch secretary of Lambeth College UCU branch in south London. She told Socialist Worker, "Pay is a huge issue in Further Education, especially for casualised staff. At Lambeth our pay has been frozen for five years - but rents haven't.
"Our workload has gone up but we aren't being paid for it."
Another picket added, "0 percent is an insult. Not getting a pay rise has had a big personal impact on me. I'm 37 and have had to live with my parents for 18 months."
Pay isn't the only issue fuelling workers' anger. Colleges face swingeing job losses, spurred on by Tory funding cuts.
"I'm trying to save for a mortgage," the picket continued. "When I heard about plans for compulsory redundancies, I burst into tears."
Alan Feaver, a Unison striker, said, "Younger people are most affected by the pay freeze and people with families. They are really struggling.
"I hope this strike will have an impact as its national. And it's the first time for a long while that Unison and UCU have been out together.
"I think the Tories want to privatise education. That's what the cuts are about.
“Colleges are forced to become more commercial. It affects people who need a second chance education as grants are cut too."
The 25 pickets at Scarborough's Yorkshire Coast College were good humoured despite the morning frost. The college's UCU rep, Ian Rollinson, is a former miner who understands the need for solidarity.
He said, “To win this we need maximum solidarity. Management need to be made to realise that paying wages like they are will also have an adverse effect on the local area and the people in it.”
James Dean, Leeds city college Unison rep (pc), "We had a really good turnout on our picket line. Staff from Leeds university came down and brought some cakes.
"The postie, a CWU union member, refused to cross the picket line so no post got delivered.”
Niall McGrath, the Unison rep at Lambeth College said, “Since August 2009 the only pay rise I've had is 1 percent in 2014. That was tokenism but it followed a big strike at the college.
"So it shows that strikes can force their hand. I would support more strikes."
David Tandy, a UCU member, said, “Our management is motivated by short term financial interests. Courses are being covered by managers. There are more agency staff and more casual staff.
"That means we lose experience, and it's worse for students. There's a narrowing of courses too. But we're still fighting."
In Nottingham pickets were out on the main road and the Clarendon College entrance. “Everyone agrees it’s great to have joint action with UCU and Unison together,” said Lyndsey, a UCU member. Both unions were well represented.
Another Lambeth striker said, "I've worked here for eight years and my pay is basically the same.
"Everything in FE is under threat. We don't know what's round the corner."
Pickets were mixed on whether they thought they could beat the bosses' attacks. One said, "It's a fight we may not win, but it's a fight we have to have."
Others were hopeful that the joint action on an England-wide scale, involving both UCU and Unison members, meant the strike would have a bigger impact.
James said, "We need to think about what we do next. It can't just be one day. We need to show we're serious. We need more strike days and more coordinated action."
College workers could team up with NUT union members in sixth form colleges.They plan to walk out on 15 March over funding cuts (see below).
Mandy agreed, "If they still refuse to give us a pay rise, we should start preparing now to join the sixth form strike."
Sixth form teachers call strike
NUT union members in sixth forms across England have called a strike for Tuesday 15 March.
They backed strikes by 86 percent on a turnout of 44 percent.
Teachers are fighting the impact of Tory cuts to education funding.
The strike will involve over 3,800 teachers across 93 sites.
Result due in Scotland
College lecturers in the Scottish EIS education union finish voting in a ballot for strikes this Friday.
The result could bring about the first national strike in further education in Scotland for 20 years.
EIS members are furious at college bosses’ attempts to impose a 1 percent pay deal, while some refuse to even sign up to a new national bargaining agreement.
Despite a much-lauded announcement by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government about the return to national bargaining the reality of its reorganisation of colleges has been disastrous.
A strike in further education will ramp up pressure on the SNP ahead of elections to Holyrood in May and put its “anti-austerity” credentials to the test as the party’s deep cuts to the sector are exposed.