UCU union members at two London colleges struck on Friday as part of a series of walkouts over pay across ten colleges in England.
Supporters joined strikers on the picket lines at Tower Hamlets College and Hackney College in east London. Workers are fighting against a below-inflation 1 percent pay offer, as well as specific disputes in individual colleges.
Maths teacher Steve was on strike at Tower Hamlets. “There is so much money being chucked about in this place,” he told Socialist Worker. “It’s rubbish to say they can’t afford to pay us more.
“All these new middle management positions have appeared with high salaries. It really galls you.”
Tower Hamlets and Hackney recently merged with Redbridge College to form New City College. Strikers said that, since the merger, conditions have got worse.
“Workload has increased,” said Steve. “And we have a different culture being imposed on us. It’s all these things together—that’s why we had to strike.”
Striker Richard agreed. “People are angry that the merger is changing the culture of the college,” he told Socialist Worker. “And they feel the pay offer is pathetic.
“There’s £9 million in the bank and the principal’s salary has gone up from £120,000 a year to £185,000 a year.”
UCU members at Tower Hamlets had been offered a £250 lump sum and a £250 a year pay rise. But as they have suffered a real terms pay cut of 25 percent since 2009, workers need much more than is on offer. And there were strings attached for some—such as increasing workload.
Moreover, workers are furious because the lack of a real pay rise reflects the low value that bosses put on further education.
“It’s about deprofessionalising the service,” said Richard. “If you have years of real terms pay cuts, what does that say about how people are valued?”
Striker Ian agreed. “People are just fed up and disappointed that the management don’t value us,” he told Socialist Worker. “Since the merger, the college is becoming a harsh environment.
“This is about pay but people are also angry about all the other things, such as disciplinaries and lesson observations. People want to have a go back.”
UCU members at Tower Hamlets and Hackney plan to strike again on Monday and Tuesday. Those at Sandwell College in the West Midlands are set to strike for three days from Wednesday. And workers at Epping Forest College in east London plan to strike on Thursday.
A planned series of strikes ending on 12 June will see several other colleges take action. These are Lambeth, Lewisham Southwark, City and Islington, Westminster Kingsway, Havering, and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London in London.
Bosses at the Association of Colleges have responded with threats, saying they won’t negotiate over the 2018/19 pay claim if the strikes continue. The UCU Left, which Socialist Worker supports, called this a “declaration of war”.
The UCU has asked branches to discuss a motion calling for a ballot over the claim. The motion declares that the union will “ballot members nationally for escalating strike action in pursuit of the 5 percent 2018/19 claim”.
The union must have a national response to the bosses’ bullying and blackmail. And solidarity with the strikes from other trade unionists can make a huge difference to workers’ resolve.
Unite union members and UCU members from Queen Mary University were among the supporters joining Tower Hamlets pickets on Friday.
“Our union branch donated £1,000 to Tower Hamlets College UCU,” said Queen Mary UCU member Angus. “What’s happening here is symptomatic of what’s happening across education.
“College workers were really good when we were on strike recently over pensions, they brought cakes to the picket lines.
“Our branch was weak but we got stronger during the strike. Branches are uneven and that’s why it’s important to show solidarity.”