Workers at further education colleges across Scotland walked out on Thursday over bosses’ attacks on their jobs.
The EIS-Fela members at Scotland’s 26 colleges are fighting plans to replace lecturers with instructor assessors, who do the same job with worse terms and conditions. They plan two-day walkouts from next Wednesday and from 20 April after the Easter holidays, escalating to three days a week after that.
Workers at Forth Valley College, where bosses tried to use a form of fire and rehire, are taking action above the national strike.
The walkout was solid from Shetland in the far north to Borders College near England.
Small physical pickets descended on college gates, while large virtual pickets operated on Zoom due to the pandemic. Strikers’ social media was on fire while the college bosses’ and Scottish government stayed unusually muted, with their usual rebuttals noticeably absent.
News of the strike reached faraway places. The Ross-Shire Journal newspaper ran a photo of the Inverness virtual picket. It shows many workers on Zoom holding posters saying, “Colleges need lecturers,” and, “Ratify the deal.”
Workers’ anger is intense due because bosses reneged on their own deal shortly after EIS-Fela members had accepted it.
The reason is becoming obvious.
The deal said, in effect, that the people who lecture in colleges are lecturers. That might appear self-evident, but the bosses’ realised their own proposals would frustrate plans to replace lecturers.
Later discussions descended into farce. When asked if someone who prepares lessons and delivers them in a college is a lecturer, management were absolutely unwilling to answer, “Yes.”
The strike’s importance was underlined at the national lunchtime rally.
The Scottish TUC union federation’s Roz Foyer emphasised the need for union solidarity. And Carlo Morelli, president of the UCU universities union in Scotland, stressed parallels with bosses’ attacks in higher education.
UCU Scotland has now pledged immediate financial support.
This strike is highly political. The bosses do not care about the students. If they did, they would not be replacing lecturers. And they may be prepared to sit out a long strike even though Covid-19 has made it very difficult for students to complete this year.
But the money comes from the Scottish National Party government and the Scottish parliamentary election takes place on 6 May.
That’s why the EIS-Fela action is set to peak at that point.
Targeting the politicians has been at the centre of the strikes from the start. Richard Lochhead, Scottish colleges and universities minister, was loudly protesting about criticisms of him on Twitter—and it was only the first day of the action.
Trade unionists across Britain should build solidarity for the Scottish further education strike.