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UCU joining 14 October strike
University and College Union (UCU) members - mainly lecturers - from more than 300 Further Education (FE) colleges in England will be joining the 14 October strike of local government workers. This decision was taken at a meeting of the union's Further Education Committee (FEC) on 12 September, following the result of an e-ballot - where 85% of the members who responded voted to reject the employers' "full and final offer" of a 1% pay increase for 2014-15. The strike is a continuation of the dispute over last year's pay claim, when we were offered just 0.7%.
Like others in the public sector FE lecturers have seen a real-terms pay cut - 15% since 2009 in our case - along with higher pension contributions. However, according to a report published this week by the Education and Training Foundation, last year there was a slight drop in the average annual pay for a full-time FE teacher. There are also pay variations across regions - the highest in Greater London, lowest in the South East and North East - and a continuing gender divide, with average full-time pay for all staff higher for men (£27,522) than women (£25,824).
Without a doubt this report underestimates how desperate the situation is. Only about a third of colleges supplied up-to-date information, and a large proportion of those were in the higher-paying areas. Even more importantly most FE teachers are not employed full-time: more and more courses are being run by lecturers on fractional or 'sessional' (hourly paid) contracts. Students as well as staff are affected, with fees increasing while lesson times are reduced.
The FEC will decide on dates for another round of national strikes at its next meeting on 17 October. The committee is also planning a campaign of targeted, escalating strike action in November. This will involve at least two branches in each region, chosen from those with the highest-paid college principals.
UCU members in FE will welcome support on our picket lines and protests, but even more welcome will be other workers taking action against this austerity government and employers who support it. Each union needs to work out a strategy that can lead to victory in its own disputes - but those plans should include joint action and coordinated activities involving members of as many unions as possible.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 22 September 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.