By Socialist Alternative West Yorkshire
UCU members at Kirklees College have now taken six days of strike action. A previously quiet branch has shown real energy on the picket lines and a real determination to take action that will get results.
After our first two strike days, reps were invited to a pay “update” that consisted of a £500 one off non-consolidated payment. When this was presented to members at a well-attended online branch meeting, the mood became even more militant. The offer was unanimously rejected, and the branch voted overwhelmingly to escalate to two more days of action, on top of the original four planned.
Hitting exam days
The two new days were again chosen to coincide with GCSE Maths and English exams in order to cause maximum disruption to management, who now must find over 100 exam invigilators to replace the teaching staff who would have undertaken this role.
The strategy of hitting the exam days has been adopted by a number of colleges, including several in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, effectively meaning coordinated strikes. This is a strategy that should be adopted nationally in order to maximise the victories that workers can win. On 12 June, Luminate Group UCU (Formerly Leeds City College) organised a rally in combination with Bradford and Kirklees College branches, which was well attended with support from trades councils, political organisations, and other unions.
Recent FE action has been notable for the grassroots nature of its organisation. Decisions have been made at branch level and activity has been arranged by local branch officers and activists, with relatively little interference from the national bureaucracy. In the future, UCU is set to undertake national action in FE with a disaggregated ballot in the Autumn and an aggregated ballot agreed at Sector Conference for early 2024.
The key thing for the union now will be making sure that there is the same level of bottom-up organisation in these disputes. The motion passed at UCU recent national congress, to commit the union to forming strike committees, including at branch level with national and inter-union committees to broaden and coordinate action must be held to.
At Kirklees, the last day of planned action was 14 June. We have had no further offers from the college. If we do not get the result we need, a pay offer that approaches inflation and agreement on workload and anti-casualisation, we have a mandate that extends into October.
Our colleagues in UNISON have successfully balloted for action which means that we can take coordinated action early in the Autumn term. This should be timed to affect key dates such as enrolment and induction days.
UCU members are determined not to stand for the ongoing pay cuts and workload increases which employers are forcing onto us. The money is there; we demand our share!