Socialist Worker

Strong pickets on day two of English college strikes

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2647

 

Strikers on the picket line at South Bank College

Strikers on the picket line at South Bank College (Pic: Unite the Resistance)


UCU union members at four colleges in England began the second day of a three-day strike on Thursday. Workers are fighting over pay, and union branches also have college-specific demands over conditions.

At Croydon College in south London, workers want a 5 percent pay rise plus an end to casual contracts. Margot is branch secretary of the UCU there. “We can’t carry on like this,” she told Socialist Worker.

“Too many workers don’t know if they will still be here next year because they don’t know if their contract will be renewed.”

Some workers are on “fractional” contracts, which are a fraction of a full-time position. But many strikers said this just means they do more work than they are paid for.

Striker Francis told Socialist Worker, “My contract is a 0.8 which means I’m paid for four days a week. But in reality I work five or six days a week. There is a lot of admin and I try to set up enrichment activities for students.

“I don’t mind putting in extra hours, but we aren’t being appreciated for it.”

The lack of funding for staff is affecting students’ education. Francis described how a technician in his department had left a year ago and hasn’t been replaced. “It has a huge impact on what I’m able to do,” he said.

Strikes have got bosses worried. But there’s a danger that the union could settle for small shifts, when workers could win much more.

“I am passionate about the job and I love teaching. But already I am wondering if I need to move out of the sector.”

UCU branch chair Frances said other staff have left “because of the pay and conditions”. “There’s an expectation that we should do so much in our own time,” she told Socialist Worker.

“We care about our students. But there comes a time when you have to care about yourself.”

Students took leaflets from pickets and were supportive of the action. Student Nordiafllin helped strikers hand out leaflets. “A lot of teachers aren’t getting the money they need,” she told Socialist Worker.

“They need our support.”

The union said college workers have suffered a 25 percent pay cut in real terms since August 2009. But the strikes have inspired more people to get involved. Margot said UCU membership at Croydon College is up by around 30 since the dispute began.

Picketing

Anne-Marie, a health and social care teacher, was on strike and picketing for the first time. “We’re living on the breadline,” she told Socialist Worker.

“We can’t even afford to get here because of the train fares. And you’re not giving your best to the students because you’re just worrying about the bills.”

She added, “These strikes aren’t only for us. We’ve got to think about the future generation. If nobody makes a stand now it will just get worse.”

This week’s walkouts are the third wave in a series of strikes by college workers. In several colleges the action has forced management to negotiate, and to offer higher pay rises and other changes to conditions.

A deal reached last week at Bridgwater and Taunton college will see an end to graded lesson observations. It also gives workers a 1 percent pay rise in April and another 1 percent next January.

Lower paid workers will receive a 5 percent rise in April.

As more people join the union, the strikes are having a bigger impact. Margot said more courses were closed across Croydon College this time compared to the last walkout in January.

Strikes have got bosses worried. But there’s a danger that the union could settle for small shifts, when workers could win much more.

A deal reached last year at the Capital City College Group gave workers an above-inflation 5 percent pay rise, plus other benefits. The money is there to give all workers a significant pay rise – and the union should keep fighting to win it


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.