by Matthew Cookson, UCU lead negotiator, EHWLC (personal capacity)
Strikers at Lambeth College in south London marched back together to work today (Wednesday 9 July) after five and a half weeks of all-out action. The college lecturers have pledged to resume their strikes in the autumn term if the dispute is not resolved.
The UCU union members began their strike on 3 June against principal Mark Silverman’s imposition of new contracts that reduce sick pay and holidays, and increase working hours. While it was initially said that this would only apply to new starters and those changing contracts, management are intent on ensuring all workers are covered by the new contracts. Managements across the country are looking towards the Lambeth dispute, as many other colleges want to erode their staff’s terms and conditions as part of a cost-cutting programme to deal with the financial difficulties many of them are in due to the government’s cuts.
The inspirational fight by UCU members has shown that we can resist these attacks. Workers around the country have rallied to the Lambeth strikers’ cause, hosting meetings with delegations from the college, holding solidarity protests and, crucially, raising £35,000 for the strike fund. UCU members in further education in particular want to see the Lambeth strikers win, as their victory would send a powerful message to managements across the sector.
A Lambeth College striker explained the decision to “stand down” the strike to RS21. She said, “The branch voted at a meeting on Tuesday to reject the tiny concessions on the contracts that were offered in negotiations this week.”
They also voted to keep the dispute live, while also returning to work. This is due to the fact that the term ends this week and there were concerns about how strikers would live on strike pay over the summer, when there are also few staff in the colleges to raise solidarity for them. They will now receive pay over the summer and they will also re-ballot for industrial action, including indefinite strikes, if the dispute is not resolved to their satisfaction.
After the UCU relayed this decision to college management, Silverman wrote back to the union threatening to axe courses for disabled students and Esol classes for those wishing to learn English if there is more industrial action in the autumn. “This is an outrageous threat,” said the striker. “Where would the equality and diversity requirements be in a decision like that?”
UCU members at the college have shown that they will reject this pressure and fight to defend education for all. “We are all feeling very positive after the all-out strike,” said the striker. “We will be joining the picket lines of those on strike on 10 July, just as they will be joining ours. We are now going to galvanise our support and prepare for stage two of the fight in the autumn.” Trade unionists around the country will also need to repeat their solidarity actions in support of the Lambeth College UCU members when they come out for “stage two” of this battle.
For more information go to http://lambethcollegestrike.wordpress.com/ and to read the letter from Mark Silverman go to www.ucu.org.uk/7157