Socialist Worker

‘The money’s there—where’s our share?’ college strikers demand

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2640

Strikers at Croydon college

Strikers at Croydon college (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Workers at colleges across England struck for the second day on Wednesday in a fight over pay. UCU union members at 12 colleges began a two-day walkout on Tuesday.

A 13th college, Kendal, joined the strike on Wednesday.

Workers have been offered a below-inflation rise of 1 percent—following years of real terms pay cuts. They are fighting for an above-inflation rise and also want more funding for further education (FE) colleges.

Manu was on strike at Croydon College. She told Socialist Worker, “Staff are underpaid. And staff on newer contracts earn significantly less than those on older ones. New recruits are not given enough support either.

“We’re now doing marking in our teaching time because there’s not enough time to do everything. It’s affecting students. It means they just have to get on with it. We are more guardians than educators.”

Striker Sal added, “There’s no career progression. And all of us are being asked to do so much more. There’s no work-life balance.”

Upbeat

Frances is branch chair of Croydon College UCU. “The mood here has been very upbeat but we know we’re only part-way through our journey,” she told Socialist Worker.

“At the end of the day, we care about our students. Teachers will be more motivated if we’re valued for what we do.”

She added that people are angry about much more than pay.

“I’ve gone part time because when I worked five days a week I just had no weekends,” she said. “I was always marking and doing paperwork. I don’t know how anyone does this full time, especially if they have a family.”

Many strikers are angry about the fact that some staff are treated worse than others.

Sam said he was striking for “equity” between workers.

Edyta is an Esol teacher. “I’m a new member of staff and a new union member—I joined so I could strike,” she told Socialist Worker. “I’m a sessional tutor so I’m only paid for the hours I teach. It feels insecure and unfair.

“I generally know how many hours I will have a month. But I’m not paid or am paid less in the holidays. And if something unexpected happens—such as me or my daughter being ill—I can’t come into work and I won’t get paid.”

Learning support assistant Yasmin said, “I just feel there has to be a change. For us, we’re just paid for term time. I’ve had to do freelance work in half term to get by—so I didn’t get a break.

“After seeing results from other colleges I think we can win.”

Strikers at Wolverhampton demand fair pay

Strikers at Wolverhampton demand fair pay (Pic: Josh Largent)


In Lambeth, south London, strikers chanted, “The money’s there—where’s our share?”

Mandy Brown is branch secretary of the UCU at Lambeth College. “We are merging with London South Bank University and we’ve been told we have a deficit,” she told Socialist Worker.

“But we didn’t cause the deficit. The vice chancellor at LSBU, David Phoenix, is on £295,000 a year.

“Sometimes I feel we should call the police and say, ‘There’s been a robbery – we’ve been burgled.’”

Bosses closed the Brixton site of the college due to the strike. And Mandy said bosses “will get a shock” because the strike will have a bigger impact after new members joined the UCU.

Striker Jim told Socialist Worker, “People are joining the UCU so they can strike over pay. Unison has just started a consultation on whether to reject the 1 percent offer. It’s too little, too late.”

There were big numbers on the picket line at Bath College during the strike. Workers there also struck in November in the first wave of action.

Desperate

And there were lively pickets at Wolverhampton College. West Midlands regional UCU official Anne O’Sullivan said that some workers faced a “desperate” situation. “There are a lot of part time workers whose salaries are insufficient for them to be able to support their families,” she said.

Strikers at East Sussex College gathered at the college’s campuses in Eastbourne, Hastings, Lewes and Newhaven.

Striker Mark Abel said, “There was a good picket at Lewes and a small but confident picket at Newhaven.”

Strikers have won support from other trade unionists and politicians. Post workers refused to cross the picket line at Bridgwater and Taunton College. In London NEU union members visited pickets at West Thames and Lambeth colleges.

The mayor of Hastings Nigel Sinden joined pickets at the Hastings campus of East Hastings College.

Ruth Cadbury MP joined pickets at West Thames College on the first day of their walkout. She tweeted that the government needs to invest in FE “rather than cutting to the bone”.

Margot, branch secretary of the UCU at Croydon, said strikers had won “lots of support from students”.

“We want the pay rise,” she said. “But we also want sessional staff to be made permanent. We are sick of people coming to the end of a year and not knowing if they will be coming back the next year.

“The strike is about getting some respect back. And every time we have a strike, people join the union.”


The colleges that struck on Tuesday and Wednesday are Abington and Witney, Bath, Bradford, Bridgwater and Taunton, City of Wolverhampton, Croydon, East Sussex, Harlow, Lambeth, Petroc in Devon and West Thames College.

UCU members at Leicester College struck on Tuesday and plan to strike again on Thursday of this week. UCU members at Kendal College struck on Wednesday and plan a further strike on 12 February.

A third wave of strikes in the pay dispute is planned for late March


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