The UCU union members at Lewisham Southwark College (LSC) and Lambeth College won support from students and other trade unionists on the picket lines. It was the start of a two-day walkout for workers at LSC and a three-day strike for Lambeth workers.
UCU members are fighting a below-inflation 1 percent pay offer. But workers also have specific disputes at the different colleges.
As Joe, a striker at LSC explained, “We are the only college in London that doesn’t have London weighting. We don’t get any pay increments either.
“People leave to get better paid work elsewhere.”
Striker and Esol teacher Sukriya added, “For the last ten years we’ve had no pay rise. And inflation is going up and up.
“People are struggling to pay rent and bills, even those without children. No one can afford to go on holiday anymore.”
The strikes come as new figures show that more than a third of college principals enjoyed pay rises of 10 percent or more in 2016/17. Some 17 of them “earned” over £200,000.
Sukriya said, “They’re just being greedy, looking after themselves. Those at the top are stealing the money.”
There was a sense that workers feel unappreciated and under-valued by the bosses.
Support worker David was on strike and picketing for the first time. “Every day I feel quite used by the college,” he said. “I’ve been here nine years, been pumped full of training and have had no real pay rise.
“To me, it’s a slap in the face. I feel that I must be better than when I started.”
And strikers said recent mergers have made things worse. “Before the merger we were promised the earth,” said striker Ali. “We were told there would be more money and no more reorganisations.
“After the merger, suddenly there was no money. And we’re now looking at another reorganisation. In the 15 years I’ve been here that will be the sixth.”
UCU members at Westminster Kingsway, City and Islington and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London were set to walk out for three days from Wednesday.
And they plan a four-day strike from next Tuesday. Union members at Havering College are set to join the action with walkouts next Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Bosses at the Association of Colleges have said they won’t negotiate over the 2018/19 pay claim if the strikes continue. The UCU has asked branches to discuss a motion calling for a national ballot for escalating strikes over the claim.
A national response from the union can push back the bullying bosses. And solidarity from other trade unionists can boost workers’ resolve.