UCU and Unison FE Strike report – 24.2.16

IMG_20160224_104418Huge congratulations to all those who participated and supported Wednesday’s historic joint UCU and Unison strike action for fair pay in FE!

The day was a great success. Highlights included:

  • incredible photos of busy picket lines from colleges all over the country. Some of the colleges spotted in social media pics and at rallies are listed at the bottom of this email.
  • in her speech, Sally Hunt, General Secretary congratulated strikers and paved the way for further action: “If we have to do this again, then we do. Every step of the way challenge AoC’s policy. We should be very proud’
  • Gorden Marsden, Shadow Skills and FE Minister showed once again Labour support for our strike, for our vision of education and our concerns about the upcoming area reviews
  • Hannah Wray from Tower Hamlets College spoke at the London rally on behalf of Action for ESOL, calling on Cameron to fund ESOL and skilled, professional teachers and stop scapegoating migrants
  • students from City and Islington and Tower Hamlets College also spoke at the rally, along with Shakira Martin NUS VP FE, about how FE had transformed their lives
  • great coverage in the national and local press, even the Daily Mail!

This is a round up of the press from the day, plus online photo galleries :

ITV : Thousands of further education staff strike over pay

TES : https://www.tes.com/news/further-education/breaking-news/college-strike-pictures-picket-line

Daily Mail : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3461253/Lecturers-education-staff-strike-pay-dispute.htmlpay briefing feb 2016



Storify UCU and UNISON FE strike (with images, tweets)




UCU and Unison strike together for fair pay in FE!


Frances O’Grady ‏@FrancesOGrady Feb 24 My support is with the @ucu and @UNISON_FE strikers today. They’re out to defend further education services and learners.

Some of the colleges spotted in photos and rallies : East Durham, Bolton, Birmingham Met, Sandwell, South and City Birmingham, Halesowen, Sussex Downs, Wirral Met, Sussex Coast Hastings, South Downs, Northbrooke, Tyne Met, Telford, Derwentside, Leeds City, Conway Park, City College Plymouth, Manchester College, Truro, Wiltshire, Havering, Hugh Baird, Rugby, Suffolk New College, St Helens, Warwicks, Stafford, Gateshead, Tyne Met, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Darlington, Gateshead, Stratford upon Avon, Oldham, Chesterfield, Kirklees, Bradford, Northampton, Knowsley, Central College Nottingham, Southport, City of Bristol, Hartlepool, Bury, West Thames, Lambeth, Croydon, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, CNWL, City and Islington, Westminster Kingsway, City Lit, Lewisham Southwark and Morley College who had their biggest picket ever of 30!!!

The FEC will meet on Friday 4th March where we will discuss next steps in the campaign for a fair £1 an hour for all staff.



Join Industrial Action with UCU and UNISON over pay

Support the strike tomorrow. Good blog post by Bradford College UCU.

Defend Education at Bradford College

UCU and Unison National Pay Strike

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Joint Unions Picket outside David Hockney Building from 7.30am onwards

UCU along with Unison (support staff) will be taking action this Wednesday, 24 February, 2016 in support of our claim for fairer pay. We are pleased to say that UCU members will be joined on strike by Unison members who have also voted to support strike action.

Pay is crucial, while we all work for our students, we expect a fair reward. The average further education (FE) member has lost around £5,950 as a result of pay not keeping up with inflation over the last five years.

If you have not visited yet find out how much you have lost here. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8086/FE-rate-for-the-job

At Bradford College we have been put on a contract that increased our workloads and delivered, we have been told by senior management, 8% more in terms of…

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Last push to get the election vote out!

20160204_145952Thank you to all the FE and HE branches that have supported getting the vote out for the UCU and VP elections over the last few weeks.

Please use your vote. Turn out is traditionally low in these elections yet we can make such a difference to the type of union we have by choosing candidates who will fight to defend the sectors and protect members. Only 15% of members voted in the last General Secretary elections.

It is often the case that HE members do not realise they are able to vote in the Vice President (FE) elections. The VP will also be the President of the union so all members in both sectors can vote for VP.

It has never been more important to vote. Further and Adult Education is on its knees and what happens to FE is making its way towards HE. Privatisation, fearful measuring and league tables, and further increases in workload.

The reason I am standing in the elections is because I have had first-hand experience of successful campaigning through my involvement with Action for ESOL, the fightback at Lambeth College over contracts, and recently the lobbies and marches in London I have helped to organise, which has raised the profile of Further and Adult Education. I have seen how well organised campaigning can work. When we organise together, we can overturn government decisions, change policy and push back attacks.

The candidates I am recommending have an excellent track record of campaigning for members in their respective sectors and for Equality.

If we bring more knowledge and experience of successful campaigning and generalise this across the union then we will have more chance of defending both the HE and FE sectors from further erosion of courses, student places, funding, lecturers’ jobs and worklife balance.

I encourage HE members to register a delegate for the HE Convention on 27th February to discuss the Green Paper. You can register here.

And to send a delegate to the upcoming Pay Briefings. More info here:

I encourage FE members to register now for the Defend Education Conference on 5th March. Confirmed speakers include Shadow FE and Skills Minister Gorden Marsden, NUT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney and Shakira Martin, VP FE NUS. Register here.

There are six days left to post your ballot paper. I urge all members to take part.

Who I’m voting for:

Rhiannon Lockley from Halesowen College whose blog you can read here: https://100milesfromthesea.wordpress.com/

Elaine White from Bradford College whose blog you can read here: https://elaine4ucunec.wordpress.com

Julia Roberts from Lambeth College

Sarah Foster from Adult and Community Education in Brent

Sean Vernell from City and Islington College

Margot Hill from Croydon College

Mark Campbell from London Metropolitan University

Dawn Livingstone from Lewisham Southwark College

Lee Short from Barnsley College

Sean Wallis from University College London

Sue Abbott from Northumbria University

Sara Weiner from Liverpool John Moores University

Ioanna Ioannou from University College London

Pura Ariza from Manchester Metropolitan University

Allister MacTaggart from Chesterfield College

Rachel Cohen from City University London

Julie Hearn from Lancaster University

All candidate materials are available on the UCULeft website.




Campaigning in Scotland HE

This week I’ve been hosted at UCU meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and St Andrews Universities.

After the meetings we visited offices and spoke to UCU members about the elections and about local issues they are facing. By far the number one issue common to all four places was workload. Members are worried about their reduced work-life balance and  the impact that PDR, REF and TEF will have on their already excessive workloads. There were concerns about the lack of transparency in PDR and how it is too open to subjectivity and therefore to favouritism and discrimination of staff who are applying for promotion.

We heard about the problems facing international lecturers who are having to pay massively increased visa fees and NHS levies, not only for themselves but for their families too. These fees are payable every year and have increased dramatically without any explanation, making the cost prohibitive for some to be able to continue their work in the UK.

PhD students and GTAs (graduate teacher assistants) talked about having to take on tutorials as well as teaching duties, with no time allowed for marking. Many have never marked before and are given no support. Often they are told that the teaching is ‘developmental’, yet there is no-one observing or providing feedback.

Cuts and redundancies are also an issue, and this again impacts on workload as more work is required from the remaining staff after each round of redundancies.

We need to step up the campaign to wipe out casualisation in education. We also need to increase resources to help build branches and regional networks.

Thanks to all the Scottish HE members we spoke to for your time and the very interesting discussions. And solidarity to all those facing the issues described here.

Calais Camp Part Two

20160215_104011The last two days were mainly spent on the camp, speaking to refugees and doing some English lessons. Every day more people in our group arrive to help out: teachers and trade union members from London, Leeds, Wakefield and Birmingham have all brought money and donations for the distribution centres, Auberges and Care4Calais. People are helping out in the centre, sorting clothes, delivering to the camp, cooking lunch for volunteers and teaching.

On Sunday I met a 21 year old man from Ethiopia who wanted help with English vocabulary and writing. He came back again the next day for his second class. Despite the appalling conditions, there is hope and plenty of motivation here.

It is a place of so many contradictions. On the one hand it is good to see that there is a level of community organisation with make-shift wooden structures housing shops, a women and children-only centre offering film-showings and ‘pamper Saturdays’, Afghan and Kurdish restaurants and mouth-watering aromas,  even a Hammam. The determination of the inhabitants to maintain as much dignity as possible. An on-site distribution point organiser told us he refuses to distribute food ‘on the line’, preferring instead to seek out people off the main track, delivering food to their tent homes. He said “people suffer lack of dignity everywhere, they have to get clothes on the line, blankets on the line, even standing in line to wash. At least let them have some dignity to eat in their homes.” This is the same man who hosted us on our first day in a tea-house tent; inviting all eight of our group to a glass of tea, with milk and sugar as preferred, and refusing to let us pay anything towards it. Insistently generous hospitality, and himself a refugee.

20160214_120532But on the other hand there is the desperation, the cold, freezing mud and rain and the uncertainty of the future. The camp epitomises all the worst aspects of the political spectrum: The horrors of war and the hypocrisy of western governments dropping bombs in the name of ‘saving innocents’ yet turning their backs on the same innocents when they come to us for help and safety. Racism and brutality of far-right groups and police, with attacks on the camp, using tear-gas and rubber bullets to intimidate and incite riots. And the injustice and inequality of abject poverty; people with absolutely nothing, through no fault of their own, unable to find food, shelter or work in the richest countries in the world.

A woman at the refugee centre told us “the UK and America are the first countries to jump into war to save Afghan people. But they are the ones who refuse to help us now. It is like we are not Afghan people any more. We have changed.”

On the way out of the camp I saw a tent door flapping open. Inside was an old, dirty mattress, with a teddy bear on it, lying in a few inches of water and soaking wet. Yet in the UK there are entire streets in central London uninhabited: second, third and fourth homes for the rich, lying empty every night.

What union branches need to do now is:

  • raise awareness of the Calais camp at every level.
  • Write to MPs & lobby surgeries
  • keep collecting donations
  • publicise the Stand Up to Racism protest outside Downing St on 22nd Feb at 6pm – “Don’t Bulldoze Calais Refugees” https://www.facebook.com/events/1962374183988146/
  • build for a massive demonstration on 19th March

We must make it clear that refugees are welcome here; and demand that our government opens the borders and lets them in.



Day One at the Calais Camp

20160213_142540First day on the Calais camp and the news isn’t good. Half of the camp is being demolished in a week’s time by bulldozers. The refugees are being coerced into moving to containers but the trade-off is that they have to give finger and thumbprint identification. This will mean they are no longer allowed to apply for asylum in the UK as officially France would then be their first port of call. The containers do not have cooking space, water or washing space.

Part of the camp has already been bulldozed and a refugee from Sudan, who’s organising distribution of food and clothing, told us “we didn’t mind that time because we had more space. But now we don’t have space and they are taking away half the camp.” He said this time the refugees will not move, “we will stay here and we will die here”.

A woman from Afghanistan told us that the women and the children are being kept on a separate government-run camp half an hour’s walk away from the ‘jungle’. Many of the women have family in the UK that they are desperately trying to reach. But no-one is helping them or talking to them. One elderly Kurdish woman watched as her family were killed and has been crying in the camp every night since she arrived. But no-one speaks Kurdish so the other women cannot help her. They offer comfort but she needs support and the authorities are not doing anything to help anyone. She said “it was very hard to get here, we risked everything to come here but it is the opposite of what we imagined”.

There are lots of  volunteers coming and going on the site; building an extension to the youth centre, organising English classes, performing a play in the theatre tent, helping with distribution of donations. But no-one knows if the buildings will even still be here after next week.

I spoke to a 21 year old from Eritrea who has been here for six months. He speaks enough English to ask and answer basic questions. Another 15 year old warming himself by a woodburning stove in the youth centre has been here for four months. Both said they knew no English when they came and have learned all they know in the Jungle Books classroom since they came to camp.

20160213_160156Tomorrow we’re hoping to join the teachers already here and start some extra English classes. Our group has brought exercise books, pens and dictionaries. There’s a whiteboard and blackboard already set up in the makeshift classroom.

The message from the camp residents to us today was very clear – please tell the world to stop the bulldozers. So please pass it on.

Why we must support the junior doctors

IMG_20160212_225311Jeremy Hunt has picked a fight with junior doctors and is losing. The government have now even managed to upset the BMA and forced them to take strike action for the first time in 40 years.

The Tories’ quest is to run down the NHS by de-funding it and driving junior doctors away from the profession so that it cannot function. Thus making it ready for privatisation – to be sold off on the cheap to their friends in big business. But they have come up against a massive groundswell of public support. Solidarity has flooded in via social media, the press, packed picket lines and solidarity selfies taken at workplaces, conferences and meetings up and down the country. Student nurses against bursary cuts walked out in solidarity with striking junior doctors.

Last night Hunt announced the imposition of the new contract for junior doctors, which will force them to work longer hours for less pay and will make the NHS unsafe for patients.

This is a disgraceful attack not only on the doctors but on the general public who use the NHS.

We cannot allow the government to destroy our health service.

Furthermore, if they get away with this attack on the BMA then no trade union will be safe from now on.

All unions need to stand together in solidarity with the BMA, and protect the rights of all workers to defend themselves against unfair working conditions and exploitation.

UCU branches should do everything they can to make links with the junior doctors in the BMA. Invite them to speak at UCU meetings and organise delegations to any protests, meetings or picket lines.