‘NO EDUCATION CUTS’ – demand Tower Hamlets strikers

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University and College Union strikers picket line at Tower Hamlets College on Friday
University and College Union strikers picket line at Tower Hamlets College on Friday

TOWER Hamlets College staff and students will demonstrate tomorrow, Tuesday July 7, outside the Board of Governors meeting, demanding: ‘No education cuts!’

The east London college was brought to a standstill on Friday as teachers in the University and College Union (UCU) took strike action in defence of jobs and vital adult education courses.

Calling for the lobby of the Board of Governors, striking staff and students handed out leaflets on the picket line.

They said: ‘Tower Hamlets College has had an excellent reputation for innovative and creative teaching.

‘Its teachers and support staff are part of the local community and have a long-standing commitment to education in the borough.’

But, the leaflet claimed: ‘Now the Principal of THC, Michael Farley, is proposing massive cuts and redundancies to be implemented in the wholly inappropriate timescale of 30 days.

‘Despite Government cuts to education funding, there is no financial crisis in Tower Hamlets College.

‘THC has money in reserve that could be used to help keep classes open and teachers in jobs.

‘But the current management of THC is turning its back on the local community.

‘Demand the Board of Governors call them to account.’

The UCU is angry after Tower Hamlets announced that it will be axing 25-40 full-time posts and reducing student places on its ‘Skills for Life’ programme by over 50 per cent, as well as getting rid of important outreach centres and support services for students and learners.

Speaking to News Line on the picket line last Friday, Poplar site branch secretary Richard McEwan said: ‘We’re striking because the college has got an LSC shortfall of £500,000, which they’ve turned into a £1.7 million “cost efficiencies’’ programme.

‘They plan to cut 1,000 ESOL (English language) places, which will decimate this community.

‘We’re an outstanding provider of ESOL.’

He said there would be more strikes at Tower Hamlets ‘until we get a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and no cuts in ESOL’.

Students and members of UNISON, the public service union, marched to the picket line in Poplar where they were cheered by the striking teachers.

The action coincided with a day of lunchtime protests against education cuts at many Further Education colleges in England.

The UCU said: ‘Tower Hamlets College works with some of the most underprivileged communities in London and UCU has said that it is deeply concerned about the impact the job losses and cuts to key social programmes will have on the local area.

‘As a result of funding cuts by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), places for students looking to learn key skills in subjects such as English and maths will be slashed from 2,944 to 1,349 in 2009-10.’

UCU said the planned cuts ‘fly in the face of new government initiatives which call on local authorities to prioritise English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and fund courses for vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups.’

The union warned that essential courses which allow students to progress to the higher level English classes ‘are precisely those which are being cut’.

Tower Hamlets College unions have also expressed their anger at ‘the reduction in outreach centres’.

The UCU said: ‘The recent government White Paper on informal adult learning recognised the importance of such centres in encouraging people with negative experiences of learning back into education.

‘Over the last three years over 1.4 million adult education places have vanished across the UK, with many non-vocational courses being forced to close.’

Alison Lord, UCU branch chair at the Poplar site, said: ‘What the college is planning is totally unacceptable.

‘Slashing funds for English language courses and getting rid of outreach centres is a massive threat to social inclusion, especially at a time of recession.

‘We realise that the college is having to deal with a funding shortage from the LSC but this is a huge overreaction.

‘We have 800 students on waiting lists so to cut provision in half will hit some of the most vulnerable people in London.

‘The college hasn’t consulted either college staff or the community properly.’

UCU Head of Further Education Barry Lovejoy said: ‘The staff at Tower Hamlets College have the union’s full support.

‘These cuts would deprive the people of Tower Hamlets and the surrounding boroughs of a vital lifeline.

‘With the onset of recession, thousands of unemployed people will look to local colleges and adult education centres to improve their skills.

‘However, if cuts to adult education, like these at Tower Hamlets, go ahead potential students will find their options severely limited.’

UNISON, the UCU, ATL, GMB, UNITE & ACM all called for their local branches to organise lunchtime protests outside FE colleges over job cuts and funding last Friday afternoon.

They said: ‘In recent weeks we have seen a real escalation in the number of colleges announcing redundancies – over 50 colleges alone in England.

‘Also in the last few days we have seen an increasing number of colleges announce plans to close their nurseries.

‘It is crazy that in the middle of a recession when colleges are needed so badly by their communities, that these same colleges are closing courses and cutting jobs.’

They said: ‘The problem is that the situation will get much worse in 2010-11 when actual government cuts/efficiency savings of over £340 million from the FE and skills sector will kick in, so we need to take a stand now.

‘We must urgently raise the profile of our campaign to send the message to both college principals and the government that we will campaign to defend every job in every college.’

Dave Gibson, UCU branch secretary at the Wakefield College protest, joined the rally outside Tower Hamlets College in Poplar last Friday, along with Kate Burland also a UCU official at Wakefield College.

Gibson told News Line that ‘up to 53 redundancies’ were threatened at Barnsley College – around ‘20 per cent of the teaching staff’.

Kate Burland said: ‘They’ve already sold off one of our main sites and we are worried about the future.

‘We’ve come to support the strike because the struggle at Tower Hamlets is one that is going to be replicated throughout the country.

‘I think the trade union movement needs to know that what the government is doing will effectively smash up Further Education and Adult Education unless the unions fight it, and people like the staff at Tower Hamlets are giving a lead to everybody.’

Tower Hamlets UCU member Julia Seton said: ‘Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone an education such that they can fully participate in the cultural life of the nation and these cuts will abrogate that right if they go through.’

Emily Oduro, another UCU member, asked: ‘Who will the save the community, who will save the young people out there if we let these cuts go through, especially at this time of recession?

‘Where will they go and what will their future be, what will happen if young people are not educated and can’t do anything?’

Tom Cherubin from Poplar joined the rally and said: ‘Education is what everyone needs and when money is diverted and spent elsewhere, and you’re not allowing the community to grow, then I think that’s a big issue.

‘I support the strike, absolutely.’

Kaltun Hussein said: ‘I’m a student at Tower Hamlets College and I want to move to the next level and go to university.

‘I support the strike. We are very upset. We want our education and to get decent jobs and to help our children.’

John, another student, said: ‘The reason I’m supporting the strike is because my education is suffering.

‘I’m in a literacy class and they’re cutting our course from seven and a half hours to six hours per week and it’s going to take us twice as long to learn now and the class numbers are going to double.’

Barbara said: ‘I agree with what John’s said.

‘As a local resident, I pay Council Tax and I don’t think it’s right to cut the service.’

Juel Miah said: ‘I fully support the strike.

‘The opportunities are being taken away from us because of the cuts, without any notice.

‘And it makes me feel: what do the government see us as, inhuman?

‘I didn’t find out that I have dyslexia until I came to college. Education has given me awareness and helped me to develop.’

Cheryl Moore said: ‘I’m a mature student and education is not only for the young.

‘I was diagnosed with dyslexia in my 50s and since then through Adult Education I’ve improved my reading skills and writing and I’ve learnt computer skills and the cuts will mean I won’t be able to further my education.’