Sixth form college workers braved freezing temperatures, snow, sleet, rain and floods on Thursday to strike for more pay and funding.
The walkout saw NEU union members at 34 sixth form colleges strike for the fifth time in the dispute.
Many rallied and protested in central London to pile more pressure on MPs ahead of next month’s budget. A sixth strike will take place on 10 March, the day before the budget.
And NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney told the London rally that the union would be balloting 50 colleges for further strikes.
NEU union rep Rob Behan was on strike at Newham Sixth Form College in east London. “The college was basically not operating normally so we are obviously having an impact,” he told Socialist Worker. “The picket line was a bit smaller because lots of people were staying out of the cold.
“But the strike has remained solid.”
Jean Evanson is the post-16 rep on the union’s national executive committee, and a teacher at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College Group. “Our picket line was well attended, despite flooding,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Two of our three campuses were closed due to floods, but there was a picket on the other one. And from other picket lines in our area, we get a sense of resolve among union members.”
The Tories have slashed funding for post-16 education, forcing some sixth form colleges to merge. Others have slashed subjects and cut support staff, tutors and teachers. Teachers who remain face spiralling workloads as they are expected to take up the slack.
Pippa Dowswell, NEU rep at City and Islington College in north London, said the Tories have “neglected” education. “Our members are angry and determined to secure a properly funded future,” she said.
Graham Childs was on strike at Peter Symonds College in Winchester. “We’ve has the second biggest cuts of any sixth form college since 2010,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We have lost £5.6 million. I’ve been there for ten years and I’ve seen the impact. My second year classes are a lot larger than they were - and that’s when students need more support.”
The union says the sector has a shortfall of £700 million. Workers are furious that the cuts have hit poorer students and those who need extra support the hardest.
At a rally and protest in London, strikers handed in boards to the Department for Education detailing the cuts at different colleges.
Our picket line was well attended, despite flooding
The first strike last October involved 25 sixth form colleges. Reballots saw a further 16 colleges pass the 50 percent turnout threshold needed for legal strikes.
Thursday’s walkouts hit sixth forms in Brighton, Manchester, Hereford, Cambridge, Sheffield, London, Bristol, Leicester, Wigan, Nottingham and many other areas.
Kevin Courtney told strikers at the London rally,” We plan to ballot 50 colleges in an aggregated ballot from 6 March in order to have a significant escalation of the dispute.
“You passed the 50 percent turnout threshold so we know we can do it. To get them to listen we have to show that we are prepared to take further action and that we can escalate.”
An aggregated ballot means that if the overall turnout is 50 percent or higher, all colleges can legally strike. The union has previously run disaggregated ballots, and only called strikes in those colleges that passed the threshold.
Activists need to organise fast to maximise the vote in the ballots, which begin in just a few days’ time. The mood is there to fight.
“We got a good vote and turnout in our indicative ballot earlier this month,” said Rob. “And we are making links with other workers.
“We had a message of solidarity from UCU union members at the University of East London today. And when we strike on 10 March we hope to meet up with them as they will be on strike too.”
He said trade unionists elsewhere should back the sixth form fight. “The direction the government is going in means it doesn’t look like we have a bright future,” he said. “Cuts in education have hit sixth forms the hardest.
“We need workers in other sectors to recognise that and support the strike. Hopefully they will take some inspiration from it and fight over the issues that they care about too.”