UCU members in further education have taken action over pay, as part of a fight against austerity and attacks. This must be linked to a political struggle – against the Tories and for a socialist Labour government.
Further education (FE) teachers across the Midlands have been taking strike action during the week of 8th April. City of Wolverhampton College staff were out on 8-10th April; Warwickshire Colleges Group on 8th and 9th April; and Coventry College (Henley and City Branches) out on 9-11th April.
The anger of teachers and their determination to win a decent pay rise has resulted in excellent turnouts on picket lines. This has been sustained by a mood of enthusiasm, with whistles, chants and general noise to alert college management of the presence of pickets. This also helps to garner public support.
The main demand is for a 5% pay increase or £1,500 per year – whichever is the greater. Since 2009, pay for college staff has been slashed by 25%, when inflation is taken into account. No other workers in education or the public sector have suffered worse cuts to their pay. School teachers earn on average £7,000 more per year than college lecturers.
These massive cuts in real pay are making it harder and harder for colleges to attract and keep qualified and experienced staff that students deserve. So teachers have had enough and are out on strike.
On Tuesday 9th April, pickets at Coventry College marched from the college site in Swanswell to the city centre. They headed for the offices of the Education and Skills Funding Agency in Quinton Road, before returning to the city centre for a rally in Broadgate.
Cuts and attacks
Among the six speakers at the rally was Darrall Cozens, a retired member of UCU and a long-time member of the Labour Party. Darrall explained that the cuts in education spending are a continuation of a massive shift in wealth from working class people to the richest in society. It is these cuts that have resulted in attacks on the terms and conditions and wages of UCU members
This shift has accelerated since the capitalist crash of 2008. The rich and powerful have continued to amass huge wealth. Meanwhile, working class people have been made to pay for a crisis they did not create. For the past 10 years we have endured direct cuts in wages and working conditions, and indirect cuts in terms of a reduction in the social wage of public services.
The recently published Sunday Times rich list showed that in 2009 the richest 1000 people in the UK had a combined wealth of £256bn. By 2018, that had increased to £724bn – a rise of £468bn in 10 years. That £724bn constitutes one-third of GDP. In 2017 alone, 82% of the wealth created went to the top 1% of the population. At the same time, the average worker has lost £18,500.
And it is not only in the UK that such a massive shift has taken place under the guise of austerity. In January of this year, Oxfam produced a document on inequality to coincide with the meeting in Davos of the world’s richest and their governments. Oxfam showed that the 26 richest individuals globally owned the same wealth as half of humanity – 3.6bn people! The wealth of 2,200 billionaires rose by $900bn in 2018 alone!
Oxfam goes on to state that governments around the world are exacerbating inequality by underfunding healthcare and education; and, at the same time, under-taxing corporations and the wealthy and failing to clamp down on tax dodging. Oxfam is certainly not a socialist organisation – but its research reveals a process going on since the 2008 crash.
Those who own and control the economic and social system we live in – the capitalist class – can only ‘save’ the system for themselves by cutting living standards for ordinary people. It is a process of greater and greater concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands
A world to win
Darrall went on to say that today we fight, we strike, we march, we rally – we show our collective strength – and we have the collective power to bring society to a halt! Not a lightbulb shines, not a wheel turns, without the permission of organised labour.
But the fight against continued attacks on our living standards is more than a trade union struggle. Our fight is also political. As long as this system of capitalism continues to exist we will have to fight each year to protect our services, our students, our courses, our terms and conditions, our wages.
And that means fighting for a different society where the wealth that we create is owned and controlled by us – a society where we decide how much is spent on education, housing, social services, health.
So long as capitalism exists, so will cuts, so will a greater concentration of wealth, so will misery and degradation for the bulk of humanity!.
Darrall finished by inviting UCU members to get active politically, to join the Labour Party – to fight for a society for the many and not the few.
Our aim is simple: with our collective strength we have a world to win.