Workers at Lambeth College voted last month for an indefinite strike to defend themselves against a principal who seems hell-bent on wrecking Further Education in the Borough. Neil R went to speak to some of the picketers and attend the open-air meeting. Plus, scroll down for some video interviews with the strikers. People chatted in the sunshine outside the Clapham College site waiting for the meeting to start. It was Day 4 of the all-out Lambeth College UCU strike. There were about 60 people at the mass picket and the mood was buoyant and confident. Students had been contributing to the piles of food and drink. Workers began the meeting with the announcement that 3 new people had joined the strike this morning and that the Brixton site was shut down completely. David, one of the strikers, reported that only 1 ESOL class had been functioning at Brixton – and so the students on it were sent text messages by management to go to the Vauxhall site instead. Very few students could understand the text – the English was too advanced – but those who made it to Vauxhall were convinced to support by the strike by a joint student and staff picket line.
There was a sense of pride as strikers talked about speaking at colleges and universities up and down the country – people were enthusiastically volunteering to go to colleges as wide apart as the West Midlands and Perth in Scotland. Up to £10,000 has already been raised across the UK. Despite their need for financial support, the strikers voted to make a donation to the Ritzy Strikers in Brixton. They that announced there would be a demo at 11am next Wednesday, and a rally in the evening. The comedian Mark Thomas has agreed to come down to the picket line soon. One striker talked of the callousness of the management. There were loads of sandwiches left over from the free lunch for scabs but the catering manager refused to let hungry and poverty stricken ESOL students have them. Instead they were binned.
There were lots of speakers bringing greetings. Pura from Manchester Met UCU talked about the seriousness of the attack. If management got away with it at Lambeth, the same attacks would happen at every other college. Brian from Leeds University talked about the attacks at Park Lane College in Leeds and how management were acting as if colleges were already private companies. ‘The whole sector is being run by philistines and thugs’, he said. Richard spoke from Tower Hamlets college, the site of a victorious strike against sackings between 2009 and 2010. ‘2000 jobs across the country are under threat. But where there is resistance management backs down. The very intransigence of Mark Silverman, the principal, is a sign of weakness not strength’. Sean from City and Islington spoke too as did Adrian from Southbank University.
Jim, a UNISON steward announced that his members would be out for two days next week on Wednesday and Thursday. If UNISON members signed the appalling new contract their working hours would be lengthened and their sick pay halved. This is nothing but an attack on the most vulnerable he said. Richard from the One Housing Group Unite branch where workers had struck last year against pay cuts also brought solidarity greetings.
Mario, one of the strikers, talked about how he was proud to lead the struggle. ‘This is a national struggle and a creative struggle. We are unleashing the creativity of the workers’. He argued we need to co-ordinate the strikes at the Ritzy, and at Doncaster. He talked about how one of the strikers who had never spoken in public before spoke eloquently at Southbank University. Ann, another striker talked about the importance of involving the students. She spoke of organising alternative education for them – sessions in citizenship and on trade unions and even a class on ESOL for the World Cup. ‘But we mustn’t just do education we must do fun for them too. It is amazing’, she said, ‘discovering the hidden talents of teachers: singers, dancers, drummers, these can all be used to help build our fight..’
The strikers finished the meeting with a discussion of the Lambeth College strike song. Details of this and everything else can be found on the strikers’ website:
This was a brilliant meeting. This is a brilliant strike. We all need to contribute, where we can, to see off the management attacks. Whether we work in education or not we all have a vested interest in a victory. We can all raise support through collections, however small, inviting strikers to union meetings, getting them to talk to people at our workplaces and in our communities.