Some 2,500 support staff across 20 Scottish further education colleges walked out on Tuesday over pay. It was the Unison union’s first Scotland-wide college strike.
Jim Mackenzie, secretary of the Unison shop stewards’ committee at Edinburgh College, told Socialist Worker, “Colleges wouldn’t function at all without the support staff.”
They include admin, catering, cleaning and security staff, classroom assistants and technicians. They have been offered just a £230 lump sum, while lecturers got £450.
“We work with the same students in the same colleges as lecturing staff—so we should get the same lump sum they got,” said Jim.
A rep at City of Glasgow’s Riverside campus agreed.
“We don’t believe in a two-tier system between teaching staff and support staff,” she told Socialist Worker. “We all support students through their studies so why should there be a difference in the way we are paid?”
Workers rejected an attempt to divide them by offering a bigger lump sum to the lowest paid.
Dundee and Angus College Unison rep Jennifer told Socialist Worker, “We’re determined to get equality.”
GMB union members refused to cross the picket line in Dundee. Unite and GMB members would gain from a victory and their unions should bring them out the door to get it quicker. Many lecturers in the EIS Fela union showed the same solidarity.
Two college boards awarded managers separate pay deals and thousands in additional bonus payments.
This is on top of many managers’ six-figure salaries. Jim said, “If they can give senior management awards like that then the low paid surely deserve a rise.”
The dispute piles pressure on the Scottish National Party (SNP) and puts its cuts in the spotlight. Further education under the SNP has seen huge funding cuts and layoffs in a Scottish government programme of college mergers. Student numbers have plummeted and provision for adult education and students with special support needs has been slashed.
The SNP’s trade-off with unions was national bargaining, but this has yet to be fully implemented.
The action was the second national college strike this year, after lecturers won a stunning victory in a battle for equal pay. They won by announcing escalating strikes backed by a political campaign.
Bosses caved in after the first 24-hour strike and agreed a three-year deal including a 33 percent pay rise for the lowest paid lecturers. A similar programme of action could win for the support workers.
Jim agreed, “We hope management see sense after our strike today but if not then we should have escalation—and we should also be picketing the Scottish parliament.”
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