It has been more than ten years since lecturers at Loughborough College went on strike. But after a decade of declining pay and increasing workloads, staff recently walked out for three consecutive days, from 14-16 November.
Pay in further education (FE) is £7,000 less than in schools, while intense workload means that lecturers work on average two days a week for free. This has all led to a staff turnover rate of 16%, the highest in the public sector.
The build up to the strike has been transformative in terms of union participation. In November, we got a 2.5% offer – 11% below inflation. Members’ demands for a ballot were dismissed at the time as being out-of-touch with the mood of the majority.
In response, a core of dedicated members formed a strike committee, with contacts on the ground in all departments. In the October ballot, as a result of this work, 98% of members voted to strike on a 64% turnout – one of the highest of 89 in colleges in the country.
The strike committee continued to be an invaluable weapon, organising to reject a late 6.5% pay offer; and then mobilising members for picket lines. All this took place during an Ofsted inspection, with increasingly intimidating emails from the bosses to staff and students!
An extra £500m of government funding has come into the sector. From this, we are determined to win a double-digit pay rise, to bring us in line with other colleges in the area.
We are all too aware, however, that attacks on working conditions are not restricted to FE. Capitalism is in a deep crisis. And the bosses are again passing the costs onto workers.
Only by expropriating the banks and monopolies to invest in education – and every other vital sector – can we solve this for good. Until then, the struggle continues!