England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

UCU Conference: National action is the way forward for Further Education

By Socialist Alternative members in UCU

UCU Congress would normally be having sectoral conferences today, however due to Unite UCU workers taking strike action, these will not be taking place. Socialist Alternative sends full solidarity to the Unite UCU workers, however there are important points that need to be raised that would’ve been raised in the sectoral conferences. To action this, branches should be calling for a recall conference and in the meantime, activists organising to implement some of the plans eg a national meeting for outsourced HE workers

The big question in Further Education (FE) for the last year has been whether or not to hold a national aggregated ballot in English colleges. The previous Respect FE campaign, which included a disaggregated ballot led to industrial action at a number of colleges while others were already taking action on local disputes over pay and conditions. The vast majority of colleges ended their actions after the 6.5% pay offer backed by government funding to match the school teachers’ settlement. 

While the rise was welcome, it was still below inflation. The major issue with this is the inequality of the result. Some branches were able to secure higher offers while some did not even get the full amount for which their employers were funded. Add these disparities to the great variation in pay scales around the country and the Wild West of pay and conditions that we have seen since incorporation continues unabated. For this reason it is more important than ever that English colleges campaign for national bargaining. In Wales and Northern Ireland where national bargaining exists we have seen better pay and pay increases in the sector, meanwhile we are painfully aware of how far we lag behind schools and sixth forms. 

Opponents of the aggregated ballot question who we are negotiating with when national bargaining does not yet exist. This is a circular argument. If we can’t fight for national bargaining until we already have it, we will never get it! A national strike would get the attention of the government (especially during or just after an election) in order to demand proper funding for FE – even college managers and the AoC would welcome this. Another argument is that we might not achieve the threshold to beat the anti-union laws. It is true that it would take patient work by UCU and its members, especially those in large, strong branches to support their weaker comrades. With a real effort and everyone pulling together, anything is possible. 

FE staff deserve equality, decent pay and conditions under a re-nationalised system. National action in England would be the first step towards achieving this. Even if we cannot formally debate and discuss this, we need to use this time to build support and pressure for national action across FE. 

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