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14 colleges strike over pay this week

Reports from FE college strikes, Brighton UCU dispute and social workers strike in Barnet
Issue 2881
Striking workers on the picket line at Croydon college this week

Striking Croydon college workers (Picture: Margot Hill)

Hundreds of workers at 14 further education (FE) colleges were set to strike over pay and workloads this week.

The UCU Left grouping says the strikers have “had enough”. “Pay has been cut by 30 percent in real terms over the last decade,” it says.

“At the same time workloads have increased as management pack classrooms to maximise their profits.

“FE staff have to spend more time chasing attendance, creating meaningless smart targets and filling in data to meet the demands of senior management.”

The statement also notes that UCU leaders have not backed their members properly.

That’s despite a consultative ballot showing an 87 percent yes vote for action on a 51 percent turnout.

“This was an incredible result that demonstrated the strength of feeling with FE. Unfortunately, this was not built upon,” says UCU Left.

“The postal ballot was then delayed until late August at a time when FE is busy enrolling and setting up courses. However, 32 branches still managed to beat the anti-union 50 percent threshold.

“Since then, 15 branches have accepted deals of at least 6.5 percent pay rises. We believe that all FE colleges deserve a pay rise that doesn’t fall below inflation.”

Strikes were to take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

  • Workers were planning to strike at the following colleges: Bath, Bolton, Capital City, Craven, Croydon, Farnborough, Heart of Yorkshire, Hugh Baird, Loughborough, Myerscough, Newcastle and Stafford, Runshaw, Warrington & Vale Royal, and Weymouth.

Brighton strike ends with pride but no win

University of Brighton strikers have returned to work together after 129 days on the picket line without the outcome they had hoped for.

They returned with heads held high and more certain than ever they were right to fight. But bosses are pushing ahead with the 22 redundancies the strike had confronted.

UCU branch chair Mark Abel told Socialist Worker that despite this, the union has still been able to inflict wounds on the bosses.

“One dean has resigned. Another has been whisked upstairs into senior management because everyone in his school hates him”, he explained.

“When we were negotiating with the bosses, they said how angry they were about the boycott that workers launched. It has done them lasting reputational damage.”

The deal bosses put on the table initially included attempts to try and make workers catch up on work they had missed during strikes and stop speaking out on social media.

Rejected Workers rejected this but opted to return to work last Friday. Management are still going ahead with victimisation of a union rep. Workers were right to fight, and to launch an indefinite strike.

And their regular strike meetings during the three months of action became the beating heart of the dispute.

But to win, the strike needed help from outside, which didn’t arrive.

Support from the top of the union was minimal, and the strike never became a focus for the national leadership.

And, after the union tops sabotaged national university strikes, there was little chance for other workers to join Brighton on strike.

But the lesson of this battle shouldn’t be that fewer strikes are the way forward. Instead, it should be that UCU members must demand better.

Barnet social workers are back on the picket lines

Mental health social workers in Barnet, north London, began a three-day strike over pay on Tuesday.

The Unison union members are demanding recruitment and retention bonuses that match the borough’s children’s social workers, who get up to 25 percent of their pay.

The council has offered them just 2.6 percent. Strikes are set to run from Tuesday to Thursday, and from 4 to 8 December. Dates have also been announced for 2024.

Helen Davies, joint chair of Barnet Unison, told Socialist Worker that strikers’ spirits are “good”. “They’re determined to go for it,” she said.

“They’re pissed off at the council, but the messages of solidarity keep them buoyed.”

On Tuesday all adult social workers struck in Brighton and Hove. “This has given our strikers strength and the feeling that this is the right thing to do,” said Helen.

“It stops them feeling isolated.” But the council is still not negotiating. “We thought there’d be discussion about issues that the teams are facing. Yet there’s no sense that the council is going to shift its position,” explained Helen.

“The crisis in the adult mental health service is screaming. Workers are breaking down because case worker is stacking up and pressure is getting worse.

Picket lines from 8am-12 noon, outside Barnet council at 2 Bristol Avenue, London NW9 4EW

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