By Sadie Robinson
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More strikes in further education see solid support for pay fight

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Issue 2594
Pickets at Sandwell College are determined to win
Pickets at Sandwell College are determined to win (Pic: Rhiannon Lockley on Twitter)

Pickets braved freezing temperatures on Thursday, the second day of a 48-hour walkout by workers in 14 further education colleges.

UCU union members are fighting a derisory 1 percent pay offer. Those at Sunderland College also struck alongside the 14 yesterday. The union said around 1,700 workers took part in the first day of the action.

Croydon College in south London was closed on day two “due to weather conditions”. But striker Margo said, “I think yesterday’s strike had an impact on the decision.”

She said the strike has “crystallised all the things people feel about what’s happening to education”.

Some colleges are striking about other grievances as well as pay. But underlying the action is anger at how the Tories and the bosses are destroying further education.

City and Islington College striker Mustafa told Socialist Worker, “Oor wages are down by £8,000 since 2008. We hardly get an increments. But that’s only one element of the strike.

“At our college we are also fighting over the huge number of hourly-paid lecturers we have. We want them to be on permanent contracts.

“And the third element is we want to defend the service. Underprivileged kids should be able to have a decent education.”

Support for the pickets at Tower Hamlets college
Support for the pickets at Tower Hamlets college (Pic: Richard McEwan)

There’s plenty of money for pay rises – and to properly fund education. Some 71 college bosses “earned” £150,000 or more in 2015/16. The figure rose to 132 when pension contributions were included.

Many colleges have also splashed out on fancy new buildings or are simply holding cash back.

As college striker Saffia told a strike rally in London yesterday, “Our college has £25 million cash reserves. And we’ve only been given 1 percent. That’s a 24 percent effective pay cut in the last ten years.”

Saffia described the impact of deteriorating pay on workers’ lives. “Every day I have to make a decision,” she said. “Do I take two buses to work or do I pay double on the tube? It’s those little things that start to eat away at our pay packet.”

The union plans to follow this week’s walkout with more strikes if bosses don’t budge. UCU’s head of further education Andrew Harden said there had been “strong” strikes at all the colleges in dispute.

“We’ve already notified the bulk of those colleges that there will be three further days of action between now and the end of April,” he said.

The dispute comes as UCU members across over 60 universities are engaged in escalating strikes over pensions.

Bosses want to tear up their defined benefit scheme and replace it with a defined contribution one. The scheme is healthy – but bosses want the liabilities off their books so they can borrow more money to expand.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt joined the pickets at Lambeth College
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt joined the pickets at Lambeth College (Pic: Ben Windsor)

“It’s just not fair,” university striker Sarah told Socialist Worker. “We’re all working so hard and for what? So we’ll have to struggle when we retire?

“Meanwhile Vice Chancellors can make half a million a year.”

University workers at 64 universities were set to start a four-day strike on Monday, followed by a five-day walkout the week after.

A planned higher education committee meeting for this Friday has been postponed for a week. The meeting could decide to call more strikes and to ballot for a marking boycott.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt spoke to strikers in London yesterday. She said that the sacrifices workers have so far made will only be worth it if they fight “to the end”.

This is not the time for concessions to the bosses’ pension deficit lies or to workers paying more for their pensions.

It’s good that the union has refused to call off strikes just because bosses have agreed to talks. The strikes have the power to win – and show workers everywhere that it’s possible to resist attacks.

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