Over 4,600 lecturers across 20 further education colleges in Scotland struck today, Thursday. They have a simple message to their employers—“honour the deal” agreed 13 months ago.
From Galashiels in the south to the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the north, EIS Fela union members took action.
In the north workers protested against bosses who have rejected national bargaining. The strike saw classes cancelled everywhere and big, angry picket lines.
Bosses’ group Colleges Scotland brazenly claimed that lecturers “are striking to get more money for less work”. It said the union was “standing between lecturers and an average pay rise of 9 percent”.
EIS Fela president and West College lecturer John Kelly told Socialist Worker these claims were “like a tweet from Donald Trump—alternative facts”. He added, “I work in one of the biggest colleges and lecturers here will get a 1 percent rise in pay.” For many others it’s also a lot less than 9 percent.
Pickets at Edinburgh College “were bigger than ever”, union branch secretary Penny Gower said.
She told Socialist Worker, “Colleges Scotland accuse us of being greedy lecturers. That’s a bit rich coming from those that have trousered away public money. We’ve had enough. If we have to, we’ll stay out until we get them to honour the deal they signed last year.”
The walkout was sparked because bosses think an agreement with the union isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
After a one-day strike in March last year, bosses agreed to address the £12,000 a year gap between the lowest and highest paid lecturers doing the same job.
Colleges Scotland members are responsible for this gap.
The 2016 deal agreed to harmonise conditions by October last year. But now bosses want swingeing cuts to annual leave, preparation and marking time, and an increase in teaching hours.
Eileen Imlah is branch secretary at New College Lanarkshire. She told Socialist Worker, “We are very angry at Colleges Scotland saying we want to work less. We want to do our job but we’re being hit from all angles and people are exhausted and stressed from workloads.”
A Glasgow Clyde College striker agreed, telling Socialist Worker, “We're under siege – workload is spiralling out of control. We’re now being asked to do work previously done by support assistants. Management have decimated their numbers.”
This is the impact of years of Scottish National Party (SNP) college mergers. These saw staff, student and course cuts while bosses squirrelled away millions—and also filled their own pockets. Workers are still waiting for the full return to national bargaining they were promised by the SNP in 2011.
That’s why strikers travelled from Glasgow, Fife, Lanarkshire and Paisley to protest with their Edinburgh colleagues at the Scottish parliament. They want to pressure SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to intervene. About 400 chanted, “Nicola, Nicola hear us say—all we want is equal pay.”
Today was the first of 12 walkouts called by the union with another strike set for Wednesday of next week. Lecturers are then set to escalate to two strike days a week then three-day strikes every week throughout May.
Every SNP candidate for the 4 May council election should be asked why their party is not standing on the side of the workers.
And solidarity can boost workers’ confidence to keep escalating action until they win.