STRIKING lecturers at Leicester College have voted to face down their principal and to stay out on strike over half term. The indefinite strike by 150 members of college lecturers' union Natfhe is a vital battle for the union, which has faced a decade of market-driven attacks in further education colleges.
The Leicester college strikers entered their third week of action this Monday, fighting against the imposition of a non-negotiated contract. It would mean Saturday working, losing four days holiday, and other worsening of conditions. 'But the biggest thing', striker after striker told Socialist Worker, 'is that it is not negotiated. It means breaking any role for the union, leaving management to impose what they want in the future.'
The unanimous decision at a mass meeting to carry on the strike over half term has clearly rattled the college's management. It emerged late on Friday of last week that the college principal had contacted ACAS negotiators to seek talks with the union 'without preconditions'. The same management had earlier in the week contemptuously dismissed Natfhe officials' attempts to negotiate a settlement.
The response to detailed union proposals last week was a 56-word statement, which said the strike had to be called off for talks to take place. The management said these would not cover the new contract at the heart of the dispute. That provoked anger at a packed mass meeting last Wednesday and on the picket lines, which two thirds of strikers have attended.
Strikers told Socialist Worker it was typical of the way Leicester College principal Maggie Galliers has ridden roughshod over staff. They found out on Tuesday of this week that management was continuing to take an arrogant stand. 'I've worked at this college for 30 years,' said one striker. 'In that time, particularly in recent years, we've seen the job we do and the education we provide undermined. The college is now a business entity. It seems like the least important people are the teachers-and not far behind that the students. None of us want to be on strike. We want to be teaching our students. But we really have had enough. If we don't take a stand over this, then we will end up just being pushed around and our students will end up with less than they deserve.'
Another striker at the Abbey Park campus says, 'We've had three new contracts in the last ten years, each of them worse than the one before. We've got to draw a line somewhere.' Leicester College Natfhe branch secretary Kate Drew says, 'For every two full time lecturers we have a manager.
'That's an astonishingly high number. And the way management have behaved over this dispute is appalling. They told students at the St Margaret's site last week that their classes on Monday would all be covered. When the students arrived they were sent home again within half an hour with details of a competition they could enter. The students were rightly furious. Then at the end of last week management rang up a part time lecturer who is on strike. They said the mass meeting had been seriously divided over the strike. Then they asked if she was coming back to work. She replied that the strike was very solid, she had been at the mass meeting and management should talk to her through the union. It's intimidation. But it's not working.'
Other strikers had similar examples of the way they felt bullied and of how management were desperately trying to get non-teaching staff to cover classes. 'Being treated like that has forced us out the door,' says a lecturer in car mechanics. I've worked in private garages. Now I'm teaching and I really love it. But in the last couple of years the workload has gone through the roof and we are just not being treated with respect.'
Another striker from the same department says, 'We've got to win this. And going all out, despite the hardship, is the best way to do it.'
'THE DEPTH of support out there for us is an eye-opener,' says striking lecturer Siobhan Logan. 'Many of us were nervous about appealing for support. But we had four union banners turn up for a ceremonial binning of the new contracts on the picket line. And we are visiting other workplaces.'
'I spoke to a teachers' union meeting at a school,' says striker Martin Bell. 'There was immediate sympathy and understanding. It's the same issues throughout education and in other areas.'
The strikers were planning pickets this half term week aimed at the college annual general meeting. They have also invited other Natfhe branches and unions to their picket line on Monday of next week, assuming they are still out.
More strikes to come
LECTURERS AT 13 colleges have voted to strike because their management's have refused to implement last year's national pay deal. A one-day strike will take place on Thursday of next week, 26 February, at Bishop Auckland College, Bradford College, Cambridge Regional College, City College Birmingham, City Literature Institute College, Evesham and Malvern Hills College, Oxford and Cherwell College, Pershore Group of Agricultural Colleges, Rother Valley College, Shrewsbury College of Art and Technology, Stourbridge College, and Hertford Regional College.
LTI CAB MAKERS
'WE'VE WON-and it's because we all came out on indefinite strike. We'll be going back with our heads held high and with the knowledge that the management have taken a real pasting.' That was the reaction from Terry, one of the strikers at LTI taxicab makers in Coventry, after the company gave in last week and conceded the union's claim over pay.
Another striker said, 'After this strike we've got the shooter-they've got the water pistol!' As news came through of the victory, it was a sight for sore eyes. Some workers rushed to their cars smiling, while more stayed in the pub to celebrate.
Following three weeks of a solid, active, all-out strike, two improved pay offers from the company were put to a mass meeting. The workers voted unanimously for the one-year deal of a 4 percent rise with no strings. As one said, 'You never know what the situation will be in 12 months time. Let's keep our options open in case we want to fight again.' The LTI strike attracted wider solidarity.
At the beginning of the mass meeting a signed petition and solidarity collection from workers at Ford, Daventry, was warmly received. In the pub everyone agreed that they won because they went for all-out strike action. LTI strikers have been discussing the Land Rover dispute. 'Good luck to them and I really hope they can get a top result,' said striker Mick. 'But I do think the unions have to think a bit more about how effective it is to have one-day strikes. Sometimes you can get disputes which drag on for a long time where it would have been much more effective to have all those days at one go as part of an indefinite strike. That makes the pressure tell on the management. As a union activist I also know that you sometimes have a harder job trying to get the workforce up for a series of one-days than for an indefinite strike. If action is on and off then you have to keep rewinning the argument to come out. Our strike had a brilliant level of involvement. It has been hard to be out for three weeks but everyone knew that this was a serious battle. Now we've won!'
GAIL DREW, JOE VARNEY and CHARLIE KIMBER