Scottish National Party (SNP) education minister John Swinney came down on the side of college bosses in the Scottish parliament today, Tuesday, as lecturers held their fifth national walkout.
In a statement to MSPs on the wave of walkouts that have hit Scotland’s colleges, Swinney called on the EIS Fela trade union to suspend the strikes. But he did not make a similar call on the employers to honour the deal they signed with the union last year.
It was a clear indication of the attitude of SNP ministers to the dispute. According to Swinney the lecturers’ escalation of their strikes next week is “not acceptable”.
Swinney was “not prepared to consider” intervening himself, repeating the tired line that it would mean the end of national bargaining.
Like his boss first minister Nicola Sturgeon he ignores the fact that it is already failing and that many college bosses want the threat to their privileged positions to fail.
Edinburgh College lecturers in the public gallery were “very disappointed”, their union branch secretary Penny told Socialist Worker. Earlier they had visited the SNP head office to deliver an open letter but Penny said, “They wouldn’t even open the door.”
It appears lecturers can expect no real help from the SNP.
The education minister—a man who boasted about crossing a picket line in 2011 during the mass strike against the Tories’ attack on pensions— will have to be forced to intervene.
When over 2 million trade unionists were striking against working longer to pay more and get less in retirement Swinney said, “I don’t support the strike action—and I’ve already crossed a picket line."
The SNP’s message today was that the union needs to compromise more. Angela, an EIS Fela rep, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve put up with so much already, we’ve nothing more to give, there’s no more compromises to be made.”
The return to national bargaining, promised by the SNP six years ago, was part of a wholesale restructuring of the sector to disguise implementing austerity. There may be shiny new buildings but the cuts to student numbers, staff and funding has had a huge impact.
Glasgow Kelvin College union branch secretary Paula agreed. “People are at their wits end from the workloads. What’s making everybody angry is that the people against what we’re doing have no idea what the job is.”
This fuels the anger and it’s why lecturers’ walkouts have grown in strength.
The strike is about honouring a deal. But lecturers are also right to argue that the cuts to preparation time demanded by the bosses matter for students and staff.
And the MSPs who encouraged the story being fed to the press by spin doctors about ungrateful or greedy lecturers should hang their heads in shame.
Lecturers need backing, solidarity and donations to their strike fund.
Bosses want to put them back in their box after suffering a bloody nose last year—they don’t want the lesson to be learned that strikes work.
If you back the lecturers and want to defend quality further education for students you should join the union’s protest in Glasgow this Saturday and visit their picket lines tomorrow and next week.
UCU London region and Unite the Resistance are co-hosting a meeting for solidarity with EIS strikers. Friday 19 May, 6.30pm, upstairs at The Cheshire Cheese pub, 5 Little Essex St, London WC2R 3LD.
EIS Fela protest on Saturday 20 May in George Square, Glasgow, from 1pm bit.ly/2rngYuX