The Scottish National Party (SNP) will be feeling the heat today, Wednesday, from a strike of over 4,600 EIS Fela union college lecturers. The workers' second walkout in seven days across 20 further education (FE) colleges across Scotland comes the day before every council is up for re-election.
At a rally in Glasgow up to 600 strikers heard SNP MP Chris Stephens back their dispute and call on his party to intervene.
He called bosses' group Colleges Scotland's refusal to honour a pay deal struck almost 14 months ago an "injustice". Stephens added, "I'll be writing to the Scottish government today to say that the strength of feeling here is clear - go to Colleges Scotland and get them telt."
The comment echoed one of the popular chants of the day and came after EIS Fela president John Kelly said, "We've heard enough from ministers. Platitudes are nothing to us."
FE lecturers were promised a return to national bargaining six years ago by the SNP but it took a mass strike last year to force a deal.
Bosses are now reneging on that and workers are focusing on SNP ministers.
Jim is EIS Fela branch secretary at City of Glasgow college. He explained, "College chairs are directly responsible to Scottish ministers. But principals see a national deal compromising their autonomy. They want to keep running colleges like their own personal property, spending public money. That's why the government needs to act."
Bosses seem to be digging in for a fight. But as one Glasgow college rep said, "Anger is increasing among lecturers who work so hard to get students through their courses after cutbacks.
"The bottom line is this was a deal that was agreed and it should be honoured. We need the government to step in now."
On the picket at Langside, south Glasgow, lecturers were dismayed at the employers' attitude. One striker said, "All we want is to be treated fairly. It often feel like FE is the forgotten sector."
Hairdressing lecturer Joanne was furious. She told Socialist Worker, "We can't believe the money is 'banked' but management are keeping it tucked away and don't want to share it."
Fife College union rep Peter said that the bosses' antics are "hardening attitudes among our members". "All the reports from our campuses are that the picket lines are bigger," he said.
By all accounts bigger numbers have been involved in today's strike and people are growing more confident. Peter thinks this due to a growing awareness of what is at stake.
Bosses are still trying to paint lecturers as greedy. Jim said, "It's quite ironic, given the pay rises principals have had for years. The salary of our principal is 90 percent higher in real terms than in 1993.
"Over the same period lecturers saw a 10 percent real terms decrease in pay."
Bosses' attacks on conditions would lead to deteriorating standards for students. The conditions of staff are the conditions students learn in.
This explains the support from students in many places. One Lanarkshire student spoke at the strike rally and urged students everywhere to "build support for the picket lines nationally".
At Glasgow Clyde College student reps have invited the union in to speak to them at each of the three campuses on Thursday. Building solidarity between students and workers can strengthen the lecturers' struggle and defend further education generally.
Similarly, calling a national demonstration can draw in wider layers of support. The EIS should call this and find more ways to involve its members in actively building political pressure on the SNP to strengthen its industrial dispute.
As general secretary Larry Flanagan explained, this can also strengthen the trade unions. He told the strike rally that EIS Fela membership was at a "five-year high - that's what happens when you make a stand".
"You are the frontline of the fight to defend public sector education, against the anti-union laws and workplace injustice," he said.
"We're not going to stop pressuring politicians in the next six weeks. The Scottish government needs to maximise its influence over Colleges Scotland and get them to honour the deal."