Education pay fight continues
WORKERS, JUNE 2008 ISSUE
NUT members walked out on 24 April in their first national strike for over 20 years, over pay. The union estimates that at least 90 per cent of members took part – most schools either closed or sent classes home. (Some were exempted for reasons such as needing to invigilate exams or because they are near retirement and would lose pension.) The police agreed with the union that around 10,000 marched in central London, and the mood was buoyant.
Teachers from schools and colleges pack Central Hall, Westminster, for a rally during the one day strikes by the NUT and UCU last month.
All over England there were successful local marches, rallies and publicity events held – a result of work put in in advance by the membership. Many noted the high participation of young teachers, many of whom had never taken action before. Teachers feel they have won the argument over "RPI versus CPI", with even schools minister Jim Knight forced to concede on the day that real inflation is higher than the 2.45 per cent the teachers have been offered. Now the debate is on about tactics for the fight to continue.
Although it was the teachers who grabbed the headlines on 24 April thousands of staff teaching in FE colleges also took action in support of their pay claim with over a thousand University and College Union members joining the teachers' march in London, where Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, addressed the rally in Central Hall Westminster. In Leeds many FE colleges took action and staff attended a rally at the Victoria Gardens. Pickets were out in all corners: West Kent College down to Exeter (where the Students Union joined staff on the picket line) and Truro, from Coventry up to Sunderland, Bradford and Tyneside. Even Wormwood Scrubs prison had to close the education department as staff joined the action.
College lecturers teach over 3 million students in England but they earn on average 6 per cent less than school teachers doing equivalent work. Almost half – 47 per cent – of colleges have still not implemented a new national pay scale agreed more than three years ago.
On 1 May (a fitting date) the six further education unions representing 250,000 members rejected an offer from the employers' body the Association of Colleges for a rise of 2.5 per cent, so the fight continues. Joint trade union side secretary and Unison national officer, Chris Fabby, said: "We reject this offer outright. 2.5 per cent is just not enough. This year, our members have been struggling to cope with huge hikes in the cost of essentials like fuel, food and housing."
The six trade unions – ACM, ATL, GMB, UCU, Unison, Unite – have submitted a catch-up pay claim for 6 per cent or £1,500, whichever is the greater. This would establish a minimum wage of £7.38 an hour for workers in FE.