UCU union undermines Further Education college strikes in north west England with below-inflation deals

Lecturers at four Further Education (FE) colleges in north west England walked out on June 7 and June 10 in opposition to a miserable 2 percent pay offer.

Manchester College staff march in Manchester city center during the dispute (WSWS Media)

The Manchester College, Burnley College, Oldham College, the City of Liverpool College and Hopwood Hall College were previously shut by strikes on May 18. Lecturers at The Manchester College, with 1,700 staff and almost 23,000 students on roll, also walked out on May 20 .

Six colleges including the above planned to strike on May 18 but the University and College Union (UCU) at Bury College broke ranks after negotiating a deal with management. UCU North West reported on Twitter, “Bury UCU wins 6 percent pay rise, 3 percent plus £1,000 lump sum.”

With RPI inflation at 11.1 percent, this represents a substantial wage cut. Neither does it meet the union’s own below-inflation demand for an 8.5 percent rise. The UCU’s response to what general secretary Jo Grady described as an “amazing” deal was to encourage other colleges to emulate Bury’s example.

On the eve of the June 6 action the UCU at Hopwood Hall College negotiated a similar below-inflation deal, accepting 7.5 percent. UCU regional official Martyn Moss said, “We welcome Hopwood Hall College’s pay offer to our members… We are calling on the four colleges… to look to Hopwood Hall and Bury college.”

FE Colleges offer courses to students including adults who missed out on gaining academic qualifications at school, as well as an array of vocational modules. Students tend to be from working-class backgrounds. Workers in this sector are facing the catastrophic cost of living crisis after having seen their pay drastically eroded, to the point that they earn £9,000 less a year than school teachers.

Strikers outside the Shena Simon campus of Manchester College (WSWS Media)

Strikers speaking to WSWS reporters explained that their dispute is as much about working conditions and the quality of education they are able to offer their students as it is about pay.

Malcolm, who has been teaching a vehicle technician course at Oldham College for four years, said, “There are more and more students and less and less time to support them due to workload. There’s a lot of planning and administration work. It’s not all about a pay rise, it’s about conditions, the extra hours you put in. Just going into college, I do an extra 15 hours a week.”

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