Further Education (FE) college workers are holding a national week of action from 15-19 October. The week of action over FE funding involves the FE lecturers′ union the UCU, plus other unions including Unison, Unite, GMB, NEU, NUS, TUC, and ASCL.
The week will also involve a march, rally and lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 17 October (as Solidarity went to press). FE funding has been cut by around 30% since 2009. This has resulted in fewer teaching hours, a drastic reduction in adult education courses, and a real-terms pay cut of 25% for staff — college teachers now earn £7000 less on average than school teachers.
The UCU is calling the government to take a number of immediate measures to halt the decline in FE. They are calling for: • Immediate exceptional funding, ring-fenced for pay, to cover the costs of a fair pay deal for college staff. • An increase in the 16-19 funding rate by 5% a year for the next five years, and extending pupil premium to cover post-16 students. • A fully funded National Retraining Scheme to support level 3 to 5 skills • Introducing a lifetime learning entitlement to fund skills training for all adults who have not previously achieved a level 3 qualification.
Earlier this year the FE college employers′ organisation, Association of Colleges, recommended a 1% pay increase for staff. However only 40% of colleges have implemented that pay rise. At the same time, the latest figures show 17 college principals earned over £200,000 in 2016/17, and a third were awarded a pay rise of 10% or more. Following strikes in February and March over pay in a small number of colleges across England, UCU is now balloting members in 110 colleges in England over the pay offer, alongside the pay ballot happening in HE. The ballot closes on Friday 19 October.
Mixed picture in DOO strikes
The RMT continues its current policy of hitting Northern Railway and South Western Railway with weekly strike action on Saturdays as its disputes with those companies over Driver Only Operation rumble on. At Northern, the weekly action has been called up to and including 10 November, while at SWR they are so far called up to 27 November.
The rhetoric employed by the union in relation to both disputes is similar — the companies are accused of stalling, obstructing or failing to take negotiations seriously. Meanwhile, the union has organised a series of public meetings in support of the Northern guards — on Tuesday 6 November in Leeds and on Thursday 8 November in Newcastle and Sheffield. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash (or Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley in Sheffield) will speak at each meeting, along side local Labour MPs.
Finally, in the dispute with Merseyrail over the same issue, the union appears to be on the brink of doing a deal that will preserve the "safety-critical" status of the guard's job and keep one on every Merseyrail passenger train. Some details emerged in a briefing dated 4 October posted on the union's website and sent to all branches — a productivity deal is being negotiated, containing some major concessions. The deal is not final but in its current form includes the transfer of some cleaning work onto guards, with resulting redundancies for cleaners (also RMT members).
Central Line strike due
Driver members of the RMT union on London Underground’s Central Line have voted for strikes in two separate ballots.
One dispute demands reinstatement for Paul Bailey, who “failed” a drugs test despite a second reading showing him to be within the allowed cutoff for cannabinoid substances. A parallel dispute aims to curtail an increasingly authoritarian management culture. The RMT has named strikes for 7 November, coordinating with a strike of members of driver-only union Aslef on the Central Line over similar issues.
RMT has also called a strike of its driver members on the Piccadilly Line for that day. Piccadilly Line drivers are fighting a similar battle against bullying bosses, and recently struck from 26-28 September. Local disputes are also developing involving station staff and drivers on the north end of the Bakerloo Line, where workers are demanding proper staffing of stations, which are currently frequently left unstaffed; and on the south end of the Bakerloo Line and elsewhere over management’s refusal to commit to ensuring all station staff shifts are covered.
RMT may also ballot station staff members at Baker Street in a dispute over management bullying.
40% job cuts at shipyard
Workers at Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead will be balloted for strikes by union Unite after the company announced plans to cut 40% of the workforce. The announcement to cut 290 jobs was made despite the shipyard winning two contracts, worth a total of £619 million, to support and maintain ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary over 10 years. Workers also fear that the cuts may be a backdoor way of casualising the workforce, by replacing permanent jobs with agency labour at a later date.
Striking against academisation
National Education Union members at John Roan School in Greenwich will strike again on 18 October in their dispute to prevent the school being forced to become an academy. In the summer Ofsted inspected the school and found it inadequate and issued a compulsory academisation order. They also brought in a multi-academy trust chain UST to run it.
However, a concerted campaign by the union's and parents has thus far prevented this happening and won support from the local labour movement including Matthew Pennycock, the local MP, and local councillors.