Workers across 15 colleges struck on Wednesday over pay. The UCU union members join those at 61 universities who are also out on strike to defend their pensions.
There was an upbeat mood on the picket lines, as strikers braved snow to take part in the action.
Strikers at Lambeth College in south London set up a brazier to keep warm. Striker Zeina told Socialist Worker, “It’s been such a long time since we had a pay rise – over eight years.
“Everything is going up – council tax, energy bills, food. We’re all feeling the pinch as we have to stretch our salaries to get by.”
Striker Susan agreed – and said the attacks on workers’ pay reflected how little value is put on further education. “I’m upset at how the government is starving FE of funds,” she told Socialist Worker.
“People who come here are just as important as people who go to universities.”
Nigel added, “Enough is enough. I’ve worked in FE for 15 or 20 years. We used to have annual pay rises, but not anymore. We’re working ever harder, with more and more targets but with less and less pay.”
At City and Islington College UCU rep Sean told Socialist Worker that the strike was “solid”. The college is part of Capital City College Group, which includes the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CHENEL), and Westminster Kingsway.
Sean said, “We have shut down 11 sites stretching from Victoria to Enfield. There are picket lines everywhere.
“The mood is very determined. This is not just the same old, same old. People know that, if bosses don’t move, we will be calling a three-day walkout.”
Most colleges, except Sunderland, are on a two-day strike. Jenny was picketing at CHENEL. “There’s a good spirit on the picket lines,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We’ve had solidarity visits from Unite and Unison members.”
Elfneh was also picketing at CHENEL. “I’m on strike because of the damage this government is inflicting on all levels of education,” he told Socialist Worker. “They keep cutting, cutting, cutting – but there’s not much more left to cut.
“It’s rubbish. We have to fight – enough is enough. I think we can win. It all depends on how determined we are, but we have to continue.
“The union just has to tell me the dates, and I’ll be out. We have to do whatever it takes.”
Zeina agreed. “I have a bit more confidence about this strike,” she said. “Maybe it’s because we’re not out on our own. I think we can win.”
The strike came as there is growing anger about top bosses’ pay and perks in education. People know the money’s there for a pay rise.
Mandy is a UCU rep at Lambeth College. “People are very angry about pay,” she told Socialist Worker. “People say we’re in financial difficulties, but we’ve been hearing the same story for nine years.
“In that time one of our principals had a 13 and a half percent pay rise. People are sick and tired of it.”
Mandy added that lots of students had stayed away in support. “We had someone join the union so they could take part in the strike,” she said.
The action has persuaded some who don’t usually strike to take action. Lambeth striker Berhane told Socialist Worker, “I didn’t strike last time because I thought the whole country has financial problems.
“But now I see there are no financial problems for the managers. They say there’s no money, but there’s money for them.”
College and university strikers, and students, plan to protest in central London from 12 noon.