Socialist Worker

College strikes show way forward in fight for better pay

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2646

There were lively pickets outside South Bank College in south London

There were lively pickets outside South Bank College in south London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Workers at four colleges in England began a three-day strike on Wednesday in the “third wave” of a battle over pay and conditions. Those at a fifth college, West Thames, began a three-day walkout on Monday.

UCU union members were out in force on picket lines in south London, west London, Harlow (see below) and Bradford. And they are confident that the action—and the threat of action—is getting results.

The union called off planned action at four other colleges after workers made gains.

There was a determined mood on the picket line at South Bank College, formerly Lambeth College, in south London. Six workers had joined the union the day before the strike so that they could be part of it.

Tracey is one of them. “I joined because I’ve had enough,” she told Socialist Worker. “We need more money. I’ve worked here for 21 years and I’m getting poorer. I’ve never been so poor.”

Karen also joined the day before the strike and was on the picket line. “I was fed up of sitting on the other side of the fence,” she told Socialist Worker. “We work really hard and it’s not recognised.

“They offered us 1 percent. It’s a complete insult. We want 5 percent.”

Mandy Brown is the UCU rep at the college. She told Socialist Worker that “the strikes are working”. The UCU is in dispute there over pay but is also fighting for improvements to contracts for newer staff.

Reinstatement

“Management have offered a week extra holiday and an hour’s less contact time on the new contracts,” Mandy said. “They’ve also offered the reinstatement of full sick pay, plus a 2 percent pay rise this year.

“It shows our action is having an impact. But people still feel the pay offer isn’t enough.”

Workers met in the run-up to the action to discuss the new offer, and voted to keep striking. As Mandy said, “One person pointed out that our claim last year was for 10 percent—so we’ve already come down by 5 percent.

“Others have said a small rise will just be swallowed up by council tax increases. We haven’t had a pay rise for ten years.”

Tracey had never been on strike before. But she said she wanted to “make an impact”.

“I wasn’t against the union before,” she said. “It was just difficult to get involved as I was busier with children.

“But if we don’t work together, we don’t get anything. Solidarity is all that matters.”

Workers know they can win. A deal reached at Capital City College Group last year saw workers win an above-inflation 5 percent rise following strikes.

Other pickets were angry about the harm they say is being done to students’ education. One striker, who has never struck before, told Socialist Worker that bosses “don’t understand the students”.

“We have students who’ve been kicked out of secondary school and have mental health problems,” he said. “They’re not getting enough support. The management aren’t interested in looking at what’s best for students.”

A big crowd of pickets gathered at Croydon college on the first day of the strike. Around 40 strikers joined the picket line in Bradford, and around 35 in Harlow, where passing cars tooted their support.

On the picket line in Harlow

On the picket line in Harlow (Pic: Michael Szpakowski)


Harlow UCU branch secretary Pauline pointed out that the college principal’s pay has recently gone up by some 15 percent to £140,000.

And branch chair Tony said people had joined the union to participate in the strike. Strikers were positive and determined. And pickets took solidarity selfies with workers from nearby Writtle University College, which begins its own ballot for action on pay this week.

The union suspended planned strikes at Bath and Petroc colleges to allow for more talks. It hopes an improved offer will go ahead at the City of Wolverhampton College, while workers voted to accept a new deal at Bridgwater and Taunton.

Earlier in the week, the UCU called off action at New College Swindon after workers won a 2 percent backdated pay rise, plus other improvements.

Workers know they can win. A deal reached at Capital City College Group last year saw workers win an above-inflation 5 percent rise following strikes.

Mandy said, “Our college has had three lumps of £13 million recently—but they can’t give us a decent pay rise. It’s outrageous.”

Thanks to Michael Szpakowski

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