Saturday, 7 June 2008

Socialist Students supports London wide FE staff strike - Monday June 9

For a united struggle of workers and young people for a decent education system for all

If your college lecturers are on strike and you want to support them get in touch!

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) who work in London FE colleges are taking strike action on Monday 9. They are not coming into work in protest at the government’ attacks on the education system, and against wage cuts in real terms. Socialist Students supports this action, sends our solidarity, and gives our active support to all workers taking industrial action.

The New Labour government has attacked our right to a decent education with fees, cuts and privatisation. While college students are suffering huge cuts in courses, unaffordable privatised college services and the prospect if they choose to go to university of fees and debt, college lecturers are being forced to work longer hours, on lower pay and on more insecure contracts. College lecturers are taking action to fight against this neo liberal model for education and attacks on their pay and conditions which also results in worse conditions for students.

Their fight with the government is our fight, students need to unite in struggle with workers for a decent education system for all.

The government is demanding that public sector workers including college lecturers have only a 2.5% increase in wages this year.

This is despite public sector workers bearing the brunt of rising inflation mortgage interest payments are up 8%, food costs are up 6% and transport costs are up by 7%. Why, when big business fat cats are making huge profits, splashing cash on yachts and gulf stream jets for their summer holidays and MP’s are allowed to get away with fiddling expenses, should public sector workers have to accept a drop in living standards?

College lecturers have had below inflation pay increases every year since 2004 and have suffered a sustained loss in income. This has gone hand in hand with redundancies due to the slashing of college funding and massive cuts in areas like ESOL and Adult Education, increased workload and for new starter’s attacks on conditions with “term time only” contracts.

The employers, the Association of Colleges have made an insulting offer of a 2.5% pay increase for 2008-9. The trade unions in FE colleges have rejected this offer and have jointly demanded a catch-up pay claim for 6% or £1,500, whichever is the greater. This would establish a minimum wage level of £7.38 for workers in FE and would go some way to meet the actual cost of living. The employers have refused to back down and so college lecturers have been forced to take strike action.

On the 24 April , UCU members were part of the 400,000 public sector workers including teachers and civil servants who took strike action against the below inflation pay freeze. The UCU has continued its campaign with lunchtime protests on June 4 which took place in colleges across England with other trade unions and students participating. If the employers and the government refuse to come back with a better pay offer the UCU and other unions may take further strike action in the summer and into the autumn. You can find out more about the UCU’s campaign here .

Socialist Students calls for the college lecturers reasonable demands to be met by the government and the employers and supports all public sector workers taking strike action against the government’s attacks. Socialist Students activists will be attending the picket lines across London offering our support and building links with education workers so we can fight back together against fees, cuts and privatisation.

Unfortunately this is not the attitude of the National Union of Students leadership. The two NUS vice presidents of FE and HE, Beth Walker and Wes Streeting have made a statement calling on the government to increase funding for colleges and to end the pay disparity between college lecturers and school teachers. However disgracefully, nowhere in the statement is there explicit support for this specific strike action calling for active support from students and student unions for this strike. The only action that this statement advocates is that students complain to college management about the effects of the strike. This will only play into the hands of management and will not help the situation of lecturers or students. The emphasis of this statement is that this industrial action will have negative consequences for students. You can read the statement here

Socialist Students condemns this statement. The NUS leadership have a responsibility to explain clearly to students and student unions why this strike is taking place and have deliberately failed to do so. The NUS leadership because of its links to the New Labour government is worried about more instability and a fight back against Brown’s government that will affect their future careers not the conditions of college students and the future of education.

Why doesn’t the NUS statement make the following points?

College lecturers have democratically taken the decision (through a unanimous vote at the UCU conference) to take this action after trying many other options.

The government and the employers have refused to listen to public sector workers despite many discussions, lobbying of MP’s and public rallies.

This strike will mean the closure of many colleges and courses not being run for one day, students may have genuine concerns about their exams and coursework. However if the government are not forced by workers to stop these attacks it will affect our ability to access free , good quality , publicly funded education.

By taking this action, college lecturers are losing a days pay, but they have decided its worth it in the struggle against the governments attacks.

The NUS leadership should also have taken the following steps to support the lecturers.

Released press releases in support of the strike action, produced posters and leaflets in support of the action and distributed them to students.

Produced posters and leaflets in support of the action and distributed them to students, emailed all students and students unions encouraging them to visit local picket lines and organise demonstrations in support of the lecturers.

Through local students unions organised meetings on campuses with speakers from the UCU, NUS and local activists groups to explain why the strike should be supported.

The NUS needs to link up with the trade unions to build a mass campaign against attacks on education. This means actively supporting workers taking strike action and mobilising students and student unions to co-ordinate action on the same day. When the UCU and other unions take action in the autumn the NUS should organise a national demonstration against fees, cuts and privatisation and use its resources to mobilise the mass of students.

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