Workers at the Tower Hamlets branch of New City College began a two-day strike over pay and conditions on Tuesday.
The UCU union said their pay has dropped by a quarter in the last decade, after bosses failed to make decent pay offers.
They have now been offered 2 percent—but it doesn’t make up for what workers have lost. And union members want the lowest paid to get more.
Workers also want action on rising workloads, improvements to contracts and formal recognition for unions.
UCU rep Richard told Socialist Worker, “The 2 percent means the highest earner gets £3,500 and the lowest gets £350. So the principal has rewarded the highest paid more.
“If he paid every post an extra £1,000 it would cost the same but would boost the lowest paid more. One demand is that we want him to remodel the pay award.”
UCU rep Ian added, “Our campus got the best exam results across all the campuses at New City College. But we’re not being rewarded for it.”
Anne, a special needs teacher, told Socialist Worker, “I’ve got several qualifications in special needs and they say I’m valued.
“But I’ve worked in education for 25 years and I can’t afford to buy a house. I’m in my 50s and I’m lodging.”
Ian said that new contracts at the college mean that newer staff have even worse conditions. “New starters have lost a week’s holiday on the new contracts,” he said. “They are also bringing in performance-related pay.
“We worry that it could mean people don’t get automatic pay increments. And on top of that our workloads are going up. We want everyone on the same contracts.”
Workers have been hit by cuts elsewhere, the rising cost of living and the housing crisis. The UCU says teachers in schools earn over £7,000 more than those in colleges.
Anne used to teach in schools on a higher salary. But funding cuts meant that special educational needs (SEN) teachers were replaced with cheaper assistants.
“I was forced out of schools because of the cuts,” she said. “I had to leave London in 2014 because my salary didn’t cover my mortgage and bills. I went to Manchester but work was harder to get so I came back.
“Now funding for SEN has been cut so much that the only job I can find is in a college. But the salary is a lot lower—I’m earning less now than I was in 2014.”
And she explained that, as a single person, finding affordable housing is a lot harder. “There’s no social housing,” she said. “Everybody says move further out. But then travel costs mean you can’t afford to come back in.
Workers at the colleges have held six days of strikes already this year as part of the dispute. Some 90 percent backed further strikes in a ballot in September.
Richard said workers have voted in favour of taking up to 14 days of escalating strikes, starting with this week’s walkouts.
A deal at Capital City College Group last year saw workers win an above-inflation rise of 5 percent, plus improvements to contracts. It followed eight days of strikes.
The money’s there to pay workers more.