From Dumfries to Shetland, Scottish further education lecturers have voted decisively in a statutory ballot for strikes against fire and rehire and casualisation.
Undaunted by postal delays, Covid-19, freezing weather, more than 5,000 EIS-Fela union members returned a 91 percent vote for strikes on a 61 percent turnout. All 26 colleges were involved.
The issue at stake is management attempts to replace lecturers. People with a wide variety of titles—trainers, assessors, instructors and so on—are told to do the same job but on vastly inferior conditions. These include no preparation or marking time.
By taking this course managements have shown that all they are concerned about is money. The education offered to students is entirely secondary.
It is all the more scandalous in that they hoped to use the pandemic as a cover for this pernicious practice.
Key to success in the ballot was the use of the “get the vote out” method pioneered by UCU union activists at Heriot-Watt university in Edinburgh.
This focuses on turnout. We asked members to report back when they had voted. This was ticked off a master sheet.
Union efforts were then progressively be targeted on the dwindling minority who had not posted their envelope.
Having first employed the technique just before Christmas in an equally strong indicative ballot, branches were tooled up for the statutory ballot.
Branch teams operated creatively at each college, using their skills to engage members via social media and other methods. Meanwhile, the argument to vote Yes was spread both centrally and locally.
All this culminated in a national all members' meeting the day before the last chance to catch the post.
It is to the credit of EIS-Fela members that most voted out of solidarity with others. The process of replacement is still limited, though cases are popping up around the country.
However, at Forth Valley College it was done by fire and rehire of lecturers, now reborn as instructors.
Members there were already involved in action short of strike. Now, stepping up the pace the branch has won its own strike mandate alongside the national ballot.
The employers can be in no doubt that we mean business.
Before the union’s indicative ballot they denied that a national dispute even existed, claiming local colleges could do what they wanted.
Faced with that solid internal union vote they started talking but hoped to shunt their problems into the future.
It will not happen. Led by a group of lay reps the decision is that escalating strikes are set to begin on 16 March. It will increase from a day per week up to two and then three days. The peak will coincide with the Scottish parliament election on 6 May. That timing is deliberate.
The Scottish National Party may be embroiled in its own internal arguments and the FE/HE minister has attempted to bat the issue away.
He has backed the employers by arguing that, despite his own government’s introduction of national bargaining, colleges have full latitude in local staffing policies.
On the showing of this ballot, and with support from others, EIS-Fela members will not allow the Scottish Government to turn a blind eye to fire and rehire in the public sector.
Warm words about the importance of education to recovery from Covid are not going to be enough.