Teaching staff at nearly a dozen Further Education colleges in London, as well as University College London and Westminster University, will take strike action on 5 May in the first coordinated wave of strike action in response to the government’s education cuts.
Because cuts are being delivered locally, the UCU is prevented from taking national action on the issue (which would fall foul of the anti-union laws). However, the May strikes show that coordinating workplace-by-workplace action so workers strike on the same day, and with the maximum impact, is clearly possible. Socialists and other rank-and-file activists in UCU may be wondering why it has taken their leadership this long to organise some coordinated strikes.
The FE sector faces £340 million of cuts in the next year alone, an absolutely staggering amount for a sector in which many workers are still hourly-paid. Some estimates of the total cuts faced by HE reach as high as £1 billion. This is unquestionably a full-frontal assault on entire sectors that will not just effect the academic workers organised by UCU but the cleaners, catering staff and other auxiliary workers who work in universities and colleges.
The question of how students and students unions should respond to industrial action by education workers is, unfortunately, a contentious one in the student movement. In response to a potential UCU strike earlier in the year, Leeds University Union ran a scab-herding campaign through which it encouraged students to lobby their lecturers to vote no in a ballot for industrial action. Socialists active on campuses in London must explain why students and workers’ long-term interests are the same, and why students should support lecturers’ strikes even if it means short-term inconvenience for them.
Workers’ Liberty activists in UCU will produce a strike bulletin for the day, and AWL students active in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts will be organising solidarity with the strikes, including leafleting to persuade students not to cross picket lines.