Workers at six colleges were set to start a two-day strike on Wednesday of this week. It’s the first wave of action by the UCU union in a campaign to win real-terms pay rises.
Mandy Brown is joint branch secretary of the UCU at Lambeth College in south London, one of the six that will be on strike. “The money is there to give workers a pay rise,” she told Socialist Worker. “Other union branches have received pay awards.
“And we won 1 percent after a previous strike. Management told us the strike was the only reason we got it.”
The action comes after workers at three London colleges last week won what the UCU called a “historic” above-inflation pay deal.
The deal at Capital City College Group will give workers earning less than £55,000 a year a 5 percent rise.
Senior management earning between £55,000 and £76,000 will get 3 percent, and those paid more than £76,000 will get nothing.
The group includes City and Islington College, The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London and Westminster Kingsway College.
Vice-chair of the UCU’s further education committee Sean Vernell said, “It was our eight days of strikes that forced the employers to take our demands seriously.” The deal shows that it’s possible to win real pay rises in further education. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell sent a message of congratulations to workers on their “brilliant victory”.
“I hope this signals a change in direction that the whole sector can follow,” he added.
Bigger pay strikes could follow in the new year as the UCU were to begin reballoting members at 26 colleges this week.
Union members at the 26 voted for strikes in recent ballots, but didn’t meet the 50 percent turnout threshold.
The union wants a 5 percent rise or a fixed increase of £1,500 for staff earning less than £30,000 a year. But it isn’t only pay driving workers’ anger—individual colleges also have local disputes.
At Lambeth, workers are also in dispute because staff on newer contracts receive ten days’ less holiday a year than other workers.
“Management said the idea behind the fewer holidays is that workers say they don’t have enough time to do all the work,” said Mandy. “So basically people are being overworked and then having holidays taken away.”
But pay is a growing issue in colleges—overall some 85 percent of UCU members who voted in colleges backed strikes over pay. Mandy said workers must organise to keep the pressure on.
“No one can argue that further education is properly funded,” she said.
“We need to demand more funding from the government. But we also need to make sure that principals release the money for pay rises.”