Further education: we need to challenge the union leaderships and link up with the community

Submitted by Matthew on 29 July, 2010 - 2:30

An hourly paid ESOL teacher at Hackney College reflects on an ongoing fight to save jobs.

Earlier this year 68 members of staff at Hackney Community College were threatened with redundancy. After two successful, solid strike days, negotiation and many voluntary redundancies there are now only a handful of people facing compulsory redundancy. But I am one of four hourly paid workers in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) fighting redundancy.

Many staff at the college will not realise that we are still struggling for our jobs because the management has been on a propaganda offensive to make it appear that there are no job losses.

Most recently they artificially reduced the number of redundancies by issuing the hourly paids in ESOL with withdrawal of redundancy notices. However, they didn’t bother to inform our programme managers of this. The managers have now timetabled for next year without us and we have been told there are no hours available.

We now face a summer with no redundancy pay (because apparently we are not redundant), having already missed many job opportunities, uncertain about what to say to students and colleagues and starting the summer feeling humiliated after a hellish process, during which we received misleading information.

We are redundant because our courses and the students who enrol on them are not valued as they should be. The government does not want to be seen to be spending money on immigrants. But without ESOL classes migrants risk isolation, problems accessing vital services, and even more barriers to finding work. Cutting ESOL is racist and sexist — the vast majority of students attending ESOL courses are women.

The government thinks it can push ESOL out into training agencies, charities and voluntary organisations — some of their provision will be excellent, much is not.

I have worked at Hackney College for six months and during that time have appreciated being in a team of highly skilled workers. Somewhere in this fight we need to talk about what we (teachers and students) want for education.

At a time of increased unemployment the government is slashing benefits and forcing single parents back into work (what work?) by the time their children are starting schools. Yet a popular training course, plumbing, is also being cut at Hackney. The borough already has high unemployment rates and desperately needs investment in education to give people on the dole the best chance of learning the new skills they need to help transform their lives and work. The last thing Hackney needs is bigger class sizes, fewer course options, a massive hike in course fees and staff losing their jobs.

There are undoubtedly more cuts to come and the chance of fighting does feel bleak. None of the public sector unions are doing enough. Here are a few ideas that can be the start of a conversation about how we gear up collectively.

For many years at Hackney staff have taken a day’s strike; often this has been to defend hourly paid workers. As hourly paid workers we are seen as the ultimate flexible workforce, to be picked up and dropped whenever management like. With urgency we need to challenge the casualisation of Further Education.

We also need to face the fact that we are going to have to strike for longer than a day or two to defend or win anything. We need to talk in our union branches about what a union is and build democratic spaces where all workers feel they can contribute and where we push beyond the limits imposed by the top levels of the union.

It’s our union; we should take ownership of it. We should challenge the union bureaucracy for such things as outrageous spending over congress dinners and start using our union subs to support organising and strike funds. A motion condemning the spending at UCU Congress was successfully passed at the London Regional Conference recentlly and the same motion was passed at Hackney branch meeting —so this is being challenged.

Finally, it is going to take more than industrial action to fight off the cuts to education. I think it is through the support of, and joint work with, the community that we will win.

We cannot wait till further cuts happen to start our fightback, we need to organise now as a community. If we want to defend what we have that is good in education, and build on it, we have a real fight ahead.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.