Workers at ten colleges struck and took to picket lines on Tuesday to demand better pay and conditions, respect at work and manageable workloads.
The employers' body has offered a pay increase of just 1 percent, well below the rate of inflation. College workers have had their pay cut by over 30 percent in real terms over the past decade.
Members of the UCU union formed lively picket lines. At Lambeth College in south London strikers chanted, “The money’s there, where’s our share?”
Action builds unions. At Croydon college, many of the strikers had only very recently joined the UCU.
Activists and strikers from across London joined a spirited protest outside Capital City College Group (CCCG) headquarters on Tuesday lunchtime.
Those who attended held banners that read “It’s time for a better pay deal” and chanted “What do we want—more pay, when do we want it—now.”
During the protest, the deputy executive principal of CCCG, Gary Hunter, put his head out of his office window, and the strikers demanded he come down and speak to them.
Julianne is a striking worker from Westminster Kingsway College. She told Socialist Worker that corporate interests have taken over her college.
“The highest paid members of staff at my college are paid over £250,000 a year when I’m not on even a seventh of that.
“We did have managers that were alright, but they’ve been sacked and replaced by ones that are more interested in making profit.
“They don’t care about staff, and they certainly don’t care about students,” she said.
Julianne pointed to the effects of cuts. “We haven’t got the resources to be able to teach to the standard that we would like to. We have broken computers everywhere,” she said.
Eileen works at the Enfield campus of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (Conel). She told Socialist Worker the lack of resources is a real problem.
“You often feel a lot of anxiety walking into a classroom simply because you don’t know if the technology is going to work” she said.
Sue, who also works at the Enfield campus at Conel, said that workers had to adapt to teach during the height of the pandemic but have not been rewarded for it.
“We adjusted to the needs of the pandemic with enthusiasm and innovation. We were praised with words by management and college bosses but nothing material has changed.”
At Conel colleges, bosses have told staff that they are paid very well compared to workers in other colleges. However, Eileen said that this is nonsense.
“They compared our salaries to staff in entirely different roles to us in the college. It doesn’t stop the fact that we are some of the lowest-paid college workers in London.
And Sue added that “making comparisons doesn’t stop people that work in our college struggling to pay the bills.”
Increased classroom observations was another concern for those on strike. Melanie a striker from the Tottenham campus of Conel told Socialist Worker being observed every two weeks is offputting for staff and students.
“One of my students asked me why their lessons were being observed. They couldn’t understand it, and neither can I. It’s intimidating.
“If three students are late to your lesson, you fail your observation. It’s way too much pressure.”
In an attempt to drive a wedge between striking lecturers or teachers and their students, some college bosses have sent emails to students that condemn the strikes.
Julianne said that an email was sent around to students at her college that presented strikers as “greedy” and like they were “uncommitted to their new students.”
Sean Vernell from City and Islington College blasted the move. “It’s disgraceful college bosses are doing this” he said.
“But a lot of students recognise it for what it is—an attempt to spread hatred and lies about staff.”
Strikes are planned to continue on Wednesday at several colleges and then during dates in October.
Escalating strikes further has the power to win.
And with university workers also balloting for strikes, a united education fight is possible.