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Lecturers strike to beat college pay freeze

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A walkout by college lecturers could launch a fight to defend education, reports Sadie Robinson
Issue 2479
Over 25 strikers were picketing at Barnsley College
Over 25 strikers were picketing at Barnsley College (Pic: Fran Postlethwaite)

College lecturers across England struck on Tuesday of this week. The UCU union members are fighting a pay freeze—following years of real terms pay cuts.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told Socialist Worker that the pay freeze was “a real insult”.

Attacks on education are also driving workers to fight.

More than 25 strikers picketed at Barnsley College in South Yorkshire. The local trades council sent a solidarity delegation.

UCU branch secretary Lee Short said the action was popular among workers. “We have had people joining the union in the run-up to the strike,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Our strike has caused massive disruption. Now we need to get Unison union members involved and have further days of national action.”

Richard McEwan, a UCU rep at Tower Hamlets College in east London, said, “People want to fight to save further education.

“We face college mergers, course cuts and job losses.

“But we’ve heard of lots of places where people are joining the union to be part of the strike. And there are more new activists who want to fight becoming reps.”

Strikers at Lewisham and Southwark College in south London

Strikers at Lewisham and Southwark College in south London (Pic: Chris Kelly)

Dave, a striker at Harlow College in Essex, said the response to the strike was “positive”. He said, “We had 12 people picketing and we covered all three entrances.”

Government figures released on the strike day showed that planned Tory funding cuts could close four out of ten sixth form and further education colleges.

The impact of cuts already rammed through was clear in some areas. Margot Hill, a UCU rep at Croydon College, said some workers there had taken voluntary redundancy and left the college.


But she added, “We had about 15 people picketing so it has held up despite us losing some of our activists.”

The stakes are high.

As Dave put it, “The government wants to scrap further education because it can’t make money from it.

If we don’t have a serious fightback, we could lose it all.”

Pauline Hall is now a sessional lecturer after bosses in Kent scrapped her post.

She told Socialist Worker, “Pay has gone down in real terms. Pay for a sessional lecturer used to be £25 an hour—now adverts say between £18 and £23 an hour.

The picket line at City and Islington College in north London

The picket line at City and Islington College in north London (Pic: Michael Bradley)

“Further education has been semi-privatised and principal salaries have gone through the roof.”

Strikers joined a rally in central London with shadow chancellor John McDonnell and protested outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The strike showed a willingness to fight back that can be built upon.

But not all colleges were on strike as some UCU branches had decided to negotiate individually.

Activists argued that the strike must be just the start—and that the fight should be broadened to other unions.

As Pauline said, “I think we need to carry on and escalate after this. This is about the future of education.”

Thanks to everyone who sent reports and pictures

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