Two contradictory developments in the sixth form colleges dispute crashed into one another last week. The first was news that the NEU union’s reballot of workers at 50 colleges in our long-running fight over pay and funding was working.
Tory laws forced a reballot on us after six months of the dispute, but we escalated by including more colleges than in the first round.
Interim data after the first week of voting showed that we were on track to meet the 50 percent turnout threshold required by law.
Yet on the same day, the coronavirus crisis surged. After weeks of dithering, the Tory government was forced to close the schools and the colleges.
So the ballot was called off for the simple reason that you can’t double-close a college.
So where does that leave union organisation in the colleges? And what does it mean for our dispute?
So where does that leave union organisation in the colleges? What does it mean for our dispute?
The rapidly changing situation around coronavirus means there won’t be an answer next week or the week after.
However, there are answers buried in the dispute and possibilities opened up by the very dynamism of the viral spread. Our pay and funding issue is fundamental and bitter.
We want to be paid the same as school teachers and we hate that our students have been hammered by cuts. An 18 year-old student has been suffering all their academic life from austerity.
NEU members in sixth form colleges are well organised. We have strong local groups and strong unofficial national organisations.
That is how we got the union to ballot us last summer, and how we got colleges on strike in the autumn term.
The ballot is over, but the dispute is not over and we are not over. We still need a pay rise and we need properly funded colleges to open in the autumn.
Duncan Blackie, vice chair of the NEU post-16 council and an NEU rep at a Sheffield college
Education union demands tests for virus
The NEU education union has called for the government to make testing education staff for coronavirus a priority.
The move comes after the government announced that schools would close—but that many will remain open to support the children of key workers. Joint general secretary of the NEU Mary Bousted said that more testing was “absolutely crucial for the efficient and safe functioning of the education service”.
“There won’t be enough education staff available for work on school sites if all members with symptoms are forced to self-isolate,” she said. Union activists are demanding more measures to protect the safety of children and staff in schools. These include more deep cleans, masks and other equipment.
Activists are also demanding that workers should have a say in how the schools are run.