Workers at 12 colleges across England began a two-day strike on Tuesday to demand more pay. UCU union members at a 13th college, Kendal, will join the strike on Wednesday.
The action is the second wave of strikes in the pay battle after UCU members at six colleges struck in November. Workers have rejected a below-inflation 1 percent pay deal after pay has dropped in real terms by 25 percent over the last decade.
At Lambeth College in south London, singing strikers did the conga on the picket line.
Mandy Brown is UCU branch secretary at the college. She told Socialist Worker, “The idea of building up momentum with waves of strikes is working.
“We’ve had about a 15 percent rise in membership since the strike in November. People joined because they want to strike over pay.”
Steve joined the UCU the week before November’s strike so he could take part. “I’m glad I joined—I’ve got no regrets,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I’ve been leaving flyers out about the union and more people have joined in my department now.
“I’m more than optimistic about this. For me it’s not a matter of if, but when we win.”
Workers are demanding a 5 percent rise. They know that years of real terms pay cuts reflect the low value that the Tories put on further education (FE).
Jo McNeill, UCU Left candidate for UCU Vice President, joined Lambeth pickets.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without FE,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I went back into education as a mature student so FE is very close to my heart.”
Pickets were out at all three sites of City of Wolverhampton College. There was lots of support for the strikers from staff and students, and spirits were high.
Strikers at West Thames College were very pleased because it was the first time the UCU group had delivered a vote with over 50 percent turnout.
The first day of the strike at Bradford College was lively and effective.
Branch secretary Geraint Evans said the strike was solid with no classes taking place. The big turnout on the picket line showed a determination to win.
And RMT union strikers from Leeds joined the picket in solidarity.
At Harlow College it was many UCU members' first experience of striking. There was a great response from passing cars and lorries whose drivers hooted support.
The money’s there to pay workers. A deal reached last year at the Capital City College Group (CCCG), which includes three colleges, gave 1,700 workers a 5 percent rise. It followed eight days of strikes.
Jo said, “The CCCG win shows that colleges do have money and can pay fair pay. Now we need all these other colleges to do the same.”
The threat of the strikes has already pushed some college bosses into making concessions.
Planned action at Hugh Baird College was suspended after a deal was reached. It gives workers pay rises of between 3 and 6 percent over two years, and an extra five days’ annual leave.
The union also suspended strikes at Coventry College as talks continue. And strikes at New College Swindon we’re suspended after the union said it reached a deal that would give “significant pay rises”.
But a three-day strike starting 20 March, the next wave of action in the campaign, remains on at the college.
Mandy said, “We hope to be out again for the next wave of strikes if the college still refuses to budge.
“A previous strike got us a 1 percent rise—which isn’t enough but it shows that strikes work.
“The strike is having more impact in the college because people in more departments and support services have joined. We’re feeling confident—it’s exciting.”