Workers across six further education colleges will finish a three-day strike on Thursday. The walkouts hit five London colleges – City and Islington, Croydon, Lambeth, Westminster Kingsway and the College of Haringey and North East London – and Sandwell College in the Midlands.
Workers at Havering College struck for two days from Tuesday.
The UCU union members are fighting a derisory 1 percent pay recommendation from the bosses’ Association of Colleges. But many aren’t even being offered that as individual colleges refuse to give any rise.
Mandy is branch secretary of the UCU at Lambeth College in south London. She told Socialist Worker, “Our ‘offer’ was that we get nothing this year but maybe 1 percent next year.
“But we’ll be putting in a new pay claim next year anyway.”
Workers met to reject the so-called offer ahead of this week’s strike. “One woman said, ‘I’m a single mother and I can’t afford not to strike’,” said Mandy.
“A lot of people were angry. In our Esol department we’ve had two more people out for this three-day strike than we had during our previous two-day one.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell sent a message to strikers on the first day of the walkouts. “I send you my full support and solidarity in the action you are taking,” he said.
“I am so proud of you all for standing up to fight for decent pay and conditions. You have my 100 percent support.”
He added that the Tories have “refused to recognise the vital contribution you make to our society”. Anger at how the Tories are underfunding education lies behind the action.
Lambeth striker Julia told Socialist Worker, “Staff desperately need a pay rise. We need to be acknowledged for the hard work that we do. We’ve had no pay rise in nine years – it completely devalues what staff are doing.”
There was an upbeat mood on the picket lines, despite strikers facing heavy rain on Wednesday. At City and Islington College, pickets sang in the rain. Workers have been buoyed by support from other unions and students.
Dom is the equalities rep at Sandwell College. “We’ve probably had the biggest picket lines we’ve ever had,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Dudley Trades Council has come to show support, as have NEU union members. Greenwich NEU gave us a £250 donation. Previously we had FBU union members visit the picket lines too.
“The solidarity means we don’t feel alone. The mood has been exultant.”
Dom said that workers had thrown out a deal that would have meant “an extra 49p a day”. “There were strings attached too,” he said. “They wanted to take away three hours of planning time. But we’re already taking work home.”
More pay strikes could follow after Easter. And the action comes as other groups of workers fight over jobs. UCU members at Hull College are balloting for strikes over the threat of 231 posts being slashed.
More action can protect workers’ pay and jobs – and defend further education.