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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Class (Room) Warfare

by New Worker correspondent

ACROSS the country teachers and lecturers are taking industrial action for wages and conditions.

At the London-based Royal College of Art (RCA) staff are taking action over casualised contracts that management are seeking to impose on established academic staff.

Their main union, the University and College Union (UCU), points out that for the last two academic years there have been more than 1,000 visiting lecturers working on zero-hours contracts, with no guaranteed work and limited employment rights. RCA wants to extend this even further.

After two days of strike action, the lecturers are taking continuous action short of a strike such as boycotting all graduate and postgraduate assessments and marking, refusing to reschedule work cancelled due to the strike and not undertaking any voluntary activities.

The union called RCA management’s refusal to properly discuss these matters “shameful”.

ULU said the dispute at RCA indicates that members are well organised and ready to strike to raise their pay and improve conditions, and to fight back against the scourge of casualisation and excessive workload.

General Secretary Jo Grady said: “RCA’s failure to move away from casualised employment practices, and its refusal to properly engage with the branch over the issue, is shameful and threatens the college’s reputation and its future. Denying the staff on whom the college relies to function the basic dignity and respect of secure, liveable contracts is completely unsustainable.”

Nathan Francois, RCA branch chair, said: “The college has willingly perpetuated unfair employment practices for years, exploiting the staff and endlessly messing them around. Management should be under no illusion that staff are willing to fight for what they deserve, and that includes taking strike action. Though we have been looking forward to meeting our students on campus after teaching through the challenges of Covid, we are striking to protect their education and the future of the RCA.”

decent pay

Slightly further north, at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) a picket of some 30 striking lecturers, supporters and students took place on Monday to seek a decent pay rise.

Lecturer Mark Andrew said: “The college’s ‘offer’ of a £1,700 offer to a few staff is a divisive attempt to break the strike.”

The union’s local Chair, Chris Anglin, said: “We cannot accept cuts in pay with massive increases in gas, council tax and mortgage repayments. We have to balance our books at home. We refuse to accept increased workloads and continuous surveillance inspections in the classroom.”

The CONEL action was mirrored across England to reject the miserly one per cent pay offer made in December by the further education employer body, the Association of Colleges. This, UCU said, is no recompense for real terms pay cuts of more than 30 per cent in the last decade.

In some case strikes were suspended, at City of Bristol College, Weymouth College and New College Swindon, after late deals were struck. In other cases, such as at South Thames College, Merton College, Carshalton College and Kingston College, action has been suspended to allow further negotiations. At City & Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College and the College of North East London the dispute includes other issues apart from pay.

In place of the one per cent UCU is seeking at least five per cent to close the school-college pay gap of £9,000, and after more than a decade of below inflation pay increases.

Speaking generally about the action, Jo Grady said: “College leaders are facing another week of strike action and severe disruption because they continue to refuse to negotiate on pay. If they want to avoid further disruption they need to enter meaningful negotiations with us on wages, as other colleges have done.

On Tuesday, lecturers at the Scotland’s Rural University College (SRUC), which has several campuses across the country, held their third day of strike action over a similar issue of pay and grading. This is part of a discontinuous series of actions that will continue until the middle of December.

not lightly

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: “Lecturers at SRUC are not taking strike action lightly, but have been left little choice given the intransigence of management and its refusal to negotiate a fair pay offer to members. Pay for lecturers at SRUC has fallen significantly behind the norms across both the Further and Higher education sectors and it is time for management to stop procrastinating and pay their lecturers fairly for the work they do.”

The lecturers took action after an overwhelming ballot with 93 per cent voting for action short of a strike, with 86 per cent favouring strike action on a 65 per cent ballot. The union complains that their claim for 2020/21 has resulted in the imposition of a poor cost of living offer (now imposed) and no significant progress towards a pay and grading review, which has been promised for years.