By Socialist Alternative West Yorkshire
On Tuesday, 9 May, UCU members at Kirklees College in Dewsbury and Huddersfield took the first of four days of planned strike action. It has taken over a year of delaying tactics by the employer combined with the obstacles of the anti union laws to reach this point.
For 15 years, pay and conditions in Further Education (FE) have been eroded year-on-year and workers have had enough. This local strike happens in the context of a series of strikes at FE colleges around England. Why not a national strike? Due to the semi privatised nature of the sector, no deal agreed at national level is enforceable at individual colleges.
Beyond the headline claim for a 10% pay rise, these strikes reflect a wider agenda around the funding of public services. FE has suffered particularly severely under the political choice of austerity, imposed by multiple Tory governments. We are in a situation where we do not have the resources to actually provide the education that our students deserve. Strikes across the whole public sector, education, health, transport, and others are a desperate call not just for a pay rise for workers, but for full funding of public services that have been starved of resources and funding for years.
College leaders claim to support us but at the same time spread propaganda that colleges cannot afford better pay for staff. This is not the case. Despite the chronic underfunding of colleges, managers and governors make choices about where money is spent. By choosing not to prioritise their workforce, the employers show their contempt for staff and indirectly for the students and communities that they claim to serve.
Members were in good spirits and in a determined mood on the first day of the strike, and with news that UNISON members at the college will shortly be holding their own ballot for industrial action, communication needs to begin between the two unions to coordinate action in the summer term.
Kirklees UCU Branch Secretary, David Paine, spoke to Socialist Alternative members on the picket line:
“UCU members at Kirklees College have been given no choice really, we’ve attempted to negotiate with the employer for the last year to get the meetings together. They’ve been very reluctant to meet with us on pay.
We’ve had a little movement on the position where they said they wouldn’t negotiate on pay from the 1% they initially offered to 2.5% now. It’s just not going to cut it in this cost of living crisis.
So we’re fighting today for a decent wage for these hard-working teachers at Kirklees College, and for all the students that we’re trying to serve in the community.
We’re taking further strike action on 10 May, and then we have action planned again for early June. We call on the employer to meet us again, as soon as possible, so that we might not have to go ahead.”
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