College and university strikers came together at a 200-strong rally in central London on Wednesday.
UCU union members at five colleges across London began their third round of strikes over pay and working conditions this week.
Workers at the Royal College of Art (RCA) began a three-day strike on Tuesday against casualised contracts, escalating from a two-day walkout last week.
The rally, organised by the UCU Solidarity Movement, was held outside the RCA and streamed to a mass meeting of strikers at the Capital City College Group.
John McDonnell told the crowd he brought “absolute solidarity”. The left wing Labour MP said RCA bosses sent him an email ahead of his appearance at the rally, showing how shaken they are by the strikes.
“I received an email from management that went into how they had made all these amazing offers to staff,” he said.
“But the email included nothing about ending casualisation.”
Many speakers at the rally focused on the shocking levels of casualisation across the education sector. Rahul Patel, a UCU member at the University of the Arts London (UAL), said, “There are hourly-paid staff who go between arts universities.
“One morning, they might work for an hour at UAL and then have to travel to Goldsmiths in the afternoon.
“They say there’s not the money to put people on permanent contracts, but this is wrong.
“The money is there.”
At the RCA, 90 percent of staff are employed on some kind of precarious, zero-hours or short term contract.
RCA striker Christie told Socialist Worker she was striking for visiting lecturers (VLs) to get permanent contracts. “VLs have amazing knowledge, and we want the university to recognise that,” she said.
“I don’t think this is a difficult request. We just want to see an end to zero hour contracts.”
Christie added, “Not having access to sick pay means that workers get nothing when an emergency occurs, such as a death in the family.
“It is just wrong. Zero hour contracts need to be gotten rid of altogether.”
Many of the strikers and the speakers at the rally pointed out that the ideals that RCA bosses say they stand for are not reflected in how they treat their staff.
Grant was a student at the RCA and now works at the university. In 2010 he occupied the student union and joined student protests to rage against the Tory-Liberal coalition government’s university fees hike.
He said that it felt like management had been open to dialogue back then, but much of that has now been “dissolved”.
RCA lecturer Angie added that everything points to a “corporatisation of art and corporatisation of education altogether”.
Before the rally, UCU general secretary Jo Grady spoke from the RCA picket line. She told the strikers that what they were demanding was the “minimum” of what they were entitled to. “This is your college,” Grady said, “not the royal college of burnout.
“The only league table the RCA is topping is for the worst levels of casualisation.”
RCA strikers will return to picket lines on 1 and 4 and 15 and 19 November while college strikers will continue their action until Friday.
The solidarity rally was a significant step towards uniting strikes in education.
UCU members at universities begin ballots for strikes on 18 October.