LONDON COLLEGES MARCH TO DEFEND EDUCATION – London Met cuts the tip of the iceberg

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UCU, Unison and PCS members marching past London Met in Holloway Road
UCU, Unison and PCS members marching past London Met in Holloway Road

Over 600 lecturers, college staff and their supporters marched through north London on Saturday in defence of education.Over 600 lecturers, college staff and their supporters marched through north London on Saturday in defence of education.

The march set off from Highbury Fields to a rally in Archway.

The march was led by a University and College Union (UCU) delegation from London Metropolitan University where 550 jobs are threatened.

It was organised by London Met UCU, London Met UNISON, City University UCU, Islington PCS, Islington NUT, Tower Hamlets College UCU, City and Islington College UCU.

Banners on the march also included King’s College UCU, Doncaster College UCU, Nottingham Trent College UCU, Tower Hamlets College UCU, UCL UNISON, SOAS UNISON, Holborn GMB and City and Islington 6th Form NUT.

King’s College UCU vice president Trevor Murrells told News Line as the march assembled: ‘I’m here to defend education, and to stand up for people who potentially face losing their jobs.

‘The job cuts at London Met are just the tip of the iceberg.

‘It’s building up in both HE (higher education) and FE (further education) sectors.

‘Two thirds of colleges have made announcements that there would be jobs lost.

‘Some have already made announcements that people will lose their jobs.

‘At King’s College we have a projected deficit of £14m, and the college is trying to find solutions for reducing the deficit.

‘At the moment, the principal’s team is consulting with senior management and the schools.

‘Once these consultations are completed, they will be producing a plan as to how the deficit will be reduced.

‘We have a “no job cuts” campaign, which is a joint union campaign at King’s.

‘We will have to ballot members for strike action if it is not a satisfactory outcome.’

UNISON member Gareth Jones said: ‘I work at UCL. We are concerned about the loss of jobs in education.

‘I’m supporting university staff who face the sack.

‘We don’t have job cuts at UCL as yet, but I am here because of the 550 jobs threatened at London Met.

‘These affect everyone – students, staff, the whole thing.

‘I’m sick of this government. They’ve been a disappointment from the first day when Blair was elected.

‘The system is not working but I haven’t decided what the solution is yet – maybe a workers’ government.

‘The unions should take action to defend jobs.’

UCU Northern Region secretary Veronica Killen told News Line: ‘Education is unravelling because of the marketisation and cuts.

‘There are course closures and department closures.

‘Science departments are being closed.

‘The agenda seems to be in favour of the employers and work training rather than education for the good of society and knowledge development.

‘Despite high levels of attainment in universities in terms of degrees, we know the quality of education is suffering.

‘We are here today to raise the awareness of the public to the cuts in education.

‘It’s a collective issue, not just a union issue but a community issue. It affects students, parents, everyone.

‘As the fourth biggest economy in the world, we should surely invest in education.

‘There could well be industrial action because of derisory pay offers – in HE it has been 0.4 per cent, in FE one per cent – both of which have been rejected by UCU.

‘Over the summer months, we will be building up support for a ballot for strike action to defend not just pay but jobs and education.’

Cliff Snaith, London Met UCU branch secretary said: ‘This campaign is to save our university.

‘It is to save 550 jobs but also the courses that are supported by those jobs.

‘So far there has only been one redundancy at London Met. That was the vice chancellor who is on £270,000 and he is keeping that huge salary until December while doing no work.

‘He was sacked in February.

‘Some people argue that there are many universities in London, one less won’t make any difference.

‘But London Met uniquely teaches craft subjects such as silversmithing, furniture design, musical instrument design, polymer science as well as Caribbean studies, low-energy architecture, and vocational subjects such as social work, which are absolutely essential for London.

‘All of these courses are threatened if the university goes – there’s nowhere else in London that teaches them.

‘We’ve already had one day’s strike action and we’re balloting for continuing industrial action.’

At the end of march rally, UCU President Sasha Callaghan said: ‘This is the first of many rallies.

‘These are the last days of this New Labour government.

‘We will fight and we will win. We will win at London Met.

‘The national union is behind you.

‘There are 120,000 of us; if we stick together we can drown them.’

Tom Taylor of London PCS told the rally: ‘This protest takes place against the worst economic crisis in anyone’s memory.

‘The national deficit is £175bn, equal to the NHS wage bill for six years.

‘The human cost of the crisis is unemployment.’

He added: ‘Instead of helping, the Budget contained a savage programme of cuts. It means cuts in wages and development.

‘The Tories are proposing ten years of austerity.

‘The PCS conference made the decision to consult our members on supporting or even standing our own union candidates in an election.’

In benefits offices, he added: ‘Management must back off, they want to change the service by hiving it off to call centres.

‘That’s unacceptable, the cuts at London Met are unacceptable.

‘We will be standing alongside our colleagues in other unions.’

Max Watson of London Met UNISON warned: ‘In addition to job cuts they want to privatise large parts of our university.

‘We’re not having it, if they think privatisation is the answer.

‘London Met management are acting like asset strippers while they’ve been paying themselves larger salaries.

‘We’re here today to tell them we will not pay for their crisis.

‘We’ve had enormous support from students.

‘Last week, they occupied the John Cass arts department.’

He pledged: ‘If they start privatising our services we will walk out on strike.

‘We have told management we will be balloting our members. We expect to be taking industrial action in the weeks to come.’

Jim Kirwan, N/NW London Communication Workers’ Union branch secretary said: ‘We bring our support to your struggle.

‘The government is privatising the Post Office.

‘There are management attacks because of the green light from the Labour government.

‘If the cuts go through, 2,000 jobs will go in London.

‘Our members have voted unanimously to have a ballot for industrial action at 160 workplaces.

‘We expect a massive yes vote.’

Hazel Raven, Doncaster College UCU branch chair, said her branch has won a victory in forcing management to drop a restructuring that put 360 jobs at risk.

She added: ‘However, sadly for the moment, the deficit remains and the fight goes on.’

She concluded: ‘We can and we must make those in power see sense.

‘If there is money for bankers’ and politicians’ expenses, there is money to fund education. Forward together people.’