UCU union members at New City College struck on Thursday following a successful walkout on Tuesday of this week. The action, part of a long-running union campaign over pay and conditions in a number of colleges, coincided with GCSE exams.
There was a buoyant mood on the picket line in Poplar, Tower Hamlets. Strikers were furious at attacks from management that mean students get a worse education.
Steve told Socialist Worker, “We have a new observation policy that is unfair. I teach entry level students and I have people observing me who don’t teach that and don’t understand it.
“They expect students to do 90 minutes of non-stop work. But if you give them a bit of headspace and make them feel more relaxed, you get a lot more out of them.”
Steve said workers aren’t opposed to measures to improve teaching, but said the observations and other policies at the college do the opposite. “The observations make people feel victimised,” he said.
“We’re here to do our best for the students. We love what we do and we try to make it interesting for them. But management seem more focused on making sure they don’t wear coats in lessons.”
Striker Helen has been at the college for two years. “I used to teach in schools and I was paid much more then,” she told Socialist Worker. “The hours were better too. And here we have too many different contracts.
“It means some staff have better conditions than others.”
Strikers greeted students as they arrived to sit their exams, and some students stopped to show their support for the pickets.
UCU rep Richard explained, “We thought it was important to be here and say hello to the students. The mood is chipper. Some said that by striking on a GCSE day we’re hurting the students. But strikers want a better education for them.”
Workers want a 5 percent rise or £1,500 a year, whichever is greater. And they also want changes on workload, contracts, lesson observations and better union rights.
A number of colleges have won significant pay rises and improvements to contracts after striking. More and more workers are seeing that it’s possible to win. And the action is transforming branches, with new people joining the union and taking on responsibilities.
Many of those on the picket line said they were prepared for a long battle if management refuse to back down. One learning mentor told Socialist Worker, “I get a feeling that this is getting more entrenched and people are getting angrier.
“They are making the contracts worse so that anyone new gets an inferior contract. If we don’t stand up to this now it will be a sliding scale and there will be more attacks. We are sticking together.”
Richard pointed out that the recent UCU annual congress agreed to continue the fight – and to broaden it too. “UCU congress was a green light for more branches to get involved,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Our boss started out by saying we couldn’t have a pay rise because of affordability. But lots of other colleges said the same and then later agreed pay rises.
“And a lot of the policies we want to change aren’t anything to do with cost-saving. Now he says he wants to teach us a lesson – that strikes don’t work. But when we suspended our strikes, he hardened his position.
“If this has taught us anything it’s that we have to strike to get anywhere.”