LECTURERS HAVE voted to walk out of further education (FE) colleges across England and Wales on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. The vote was two to one for strikes in a ballot with a 44 percent turnout. The lecturers, who are members of the Natfhe union, are incensed at the 1.5 percent pay rise being offered by their employers, the Association of Colleges. It is below the level of inflation and amounts to a pay cut.
College employers upped the stakes by calling off pay talks scheduled for this week, claiming they could not find any cash to fund a higher offer. The introduction of market mechanisms into further education has led to obscene handouts to college principals while lecturers endure declining pay and conditions.
Students have also suffered. They are often crammed onto courses one year only to find courses cancelled the next. Two thirds of colleges pay a maximum of £17,000 to some lecturers. A survey in the Times Educational Supplement found that a record number of college lecturers are turning to teacher supply agencies to get part time work in schools.
The government's claims of increased numbers in teacher training this year have actually come at the expense of experienced lecturers leaving FE colleges. The average salary of college lecturers is £3,000 behind school teachers. The Natfhe union strike vote is another sign of the growing anger over pay, particularly in the public sector.
The union is also to launch a big campaign to increase London allowance payments. It has called a rally for Tuesday 11 June, the night before an expected two-day strike over the same issue by council workers in the Unison union in London. Activists in Natfhe are pushing to make next week's strike action as effective as possible.
There is a tradition of often big picket lines at colleges, and local rallies are planned. There is also a growing feeling that public sector workers should be striking alongside one another. That is clearest in London, where teachers and council workers have struck in recent weeks.
A rally called by the NUT teachers', union over London pay on Wednesday of this week got support from the other two teachers' unions. Further action by lecturers coinciding with the planned council workers' strike in London would increase pressure on college employers and the government. It would also start to tap the mood for a united fightback across the public sector.