LECTURERS, librarians, technicians, cleaners and caretakers in Unison and the UCU union walked out on strike in Sixth Form Colleges around the country yesterday, in a one-day strike against a proposed pay freeze.
Over 30 UCU and Unison strikers at the College of North East London (CoNEL) demonstrated loudly yesterday morning. They were blowing vuvuzelas, cars were hooting their horns and students joined and supported the strike.
Wendy Whitelaw, a UCU rep on the picket, said: ‘I am on strike because we have not had a wage rise in five years. My workload has increased by 50% over that period due to staff redundancies and staff not being replaced. It is obscene how we are expected to do more and more when the principal and other fat cats earn more than the prime minister.’
Will Brown, a UCU striker told News Line: ‘I am on strike for pay and for colleagues not getting a raise and being overworked. Management expect more from us and they are trying to increase working hours. I am also showing support for the public sector and lack of funding for public services. I absolutely support the junior doctors strike too. Jeremy Hunt has a lack of humanity and common sense. I fully support a general strike with the junior doctors. I think a general strike to bring down the Tory government is the only way.’
On the picket line at Hackney Community College in Hoxton, north London, there was a lively picket, with Unison and UCU members joined by an NUT rep who had come down to support the strike and students.
Jimmy Bryan, Unison chair from Hackney Community College said: ‘We are against the pay freeze, with no or little pay increase for a number of years. Meanwhile, the cost of living has been rising steadily. We need to be able to live the same as everyone else.
‘This is a time bomb waiting to explode.’
Amanda Bentham, of the East London Teachers Association, Tower Hamlets NUT branch, told News Line: ‘I have come down to the picket line to support the UCU and Unison strike. Their struggle is our struggle.
‘Further Education is a vital lifeline for all those students who leave school and need another chance to get their exams and get into work and university and perhaps take a vocational pathway instead of an academic one. Personally, I teach students with special needs and Further Education is essential to them. The NUT has balloted its members in Sixth Form Colleges for a strike in March on exactly the same issue, cuts and a pay freeze.’
UCU rep at Hackney Community College Rose Veitch, said: ‘This is a pay freeze! We have been “offered” a 0% pay increase. This is on top of a derisory pay “increase” of 0.2% and percentages of that sort over the last six years.
‘We have lost about 17% pay in real terms since the coalition got in. I have colleagues that have had to opt out of their pension scheme because they could no longer afford it. We have MPs awarding themselves 11% pay increases and vice principals awarding themselves big pay rises; it makes you a bit sick! Unison, UCU and NUT should come out together. In fact, there should be a general strike because we are all being squeezed in the same way.’
The TUC sent a message of support to the striking UCU and Unison members. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The TUC sends our support to UCU and Unison members taking action on Wednesday.’
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, addressed a rally of over a hundred strikers at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster.’ She said: ‘Strikers are here today to defend students, Further Education and Higher Education in this country.
‘All we ask for is £1 per member. Since 2009, we have received only a 3% increase. The government listened to the trade unions, said that they were concerned and sympathetic but very unable to do anything. What do we have to do in the future? One-day action is not going to make a difference; we need to build an alliance with other unions in the education sector. The next step is our conference on March 5 about the future of education.’