Workers struck across Shrewsbury Colleges Group on Wednesday to defend victimised NEU union rep John Boken.
Bosses there targeted John after he raised complaints about racism in the college.
Over 60 people joined an online strike rally on Wednesday, with more watching a livestream on Facebook. John Boken told the rally, “I’m having to fight for my career and my livelihood because I am a union rep. It’s not fair, and it’s not right.”
John said he has “faith and trust” in the NEU members backing him. And he said his fight is part of a wider struggle. “Our actions as trade unionists are vital in securing a safe workplace,” he said.
“One that is safe from racism, bullying and victimisation.”
Strikers stressed that the fight to defend John is part of a much bigger battle.
NEU rep Jean Evanson said, “We are on strike to defend John, to defend trade unionists and the role of a trade union rep.
“Why are reps victimised? Because they uncover injustice and fight back. We are therefore a threat to unjust practices. We are fighting back and making as much noise as possible.”
Striker Martin added, “We balloted in defence of John, but it’s become apparent that this is a wider attack on the NEU within the college.
“The victimisation is to try and stop other reps from being vocal. We’ve got to make sure management don’t get away with this.”
David said there is an “employers’ offensive” to undermine unions as workers try to “protect staff and students from deadly infection”.
He added, “We’re up for another round of austerity. I think they want to disable the trade union movement from fighting that.”
Solidarity messages flooded in during the rally. Workers sent support from Lancaster and Morecambe, Hampshire, Tower Hamlets, West Yorkshire, Sheffield, Birmingham, Darlington, Lewisham, Coventry and Greenwich among other places.
John’s victimisation is one of several cases where bosses are targeting NEU reps. In Greenwich, south London, rep Kirstie Paton has been targeted after criticising the academy chain that runs her school.
In Huddersfield, west Yorkshire, rep Louise Lewis was suspended in October. And NEU members at the London Design and Engineering free school in London staged strikes last year to demand the reinstatement of rep Sharon Morgan.
“It’s so important for us to stand up and speak out as victimised reps,” Louise told the rally. “It is a way to silence a workplace by taking out a rep. If we don’t fight, it will continue.”
Gawain Little from the union’s national executive committee told Wednesday’s rally that reps are “the absolute bedrock of our union”. He said there are a small number of victimisations of reps, but that the cases are “huge in importance”.
“If we allow our reps to be bullied out of the workplace, we’re allowing that collective voice to be destroyed,” he said.
“Every one of these cases is vital and we must fight them with our strongest weapon – unity, collective action, solidarity.”
“We will not allow our reps to be victimised. We stand with John – I am John Boken.”
Daniel Kebede, senior vice president of the NEU, said it is “absolutely right” to strike to defend John. “If they come for John Boken, they can come for any one of us,” he said.
Workers plan nine more strike days in March, with the next walkouts set for 9, 10 and 11 March. Every trade unionist must organise support for the action. A victory in Shrewsbury will make bosses everywhere think twice about trying to victimise activists.