Matt Dobson and Socialist Party Scotland reporters
2,500 Unison members who work as support staff in Scotland’s 20 FE colleges took their first national day of strike action in a dispute over pay. Picket lines were well attended and buoyant as the fight for a £450 flat rate rise for all got of to a flying start.
There were good numbers of Unison pickets across the West of Scotland, with every campus in Glagow, Paisley, Clydebank, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire seeing large and lively picket lines.
Following a series of college mergers, Scotland has some of the biggest college campuses in Europe. At City College Glasgow and Clyde College, Langside there were pickets at every entrance and delivery drivers refused to cross.
Members of other unions, including the GMB and EIS-FELA lecturers, joined picket lines.
George, a Unison steward at West College, Paisley campus thanked Socialist Party Scotland activists for their support. He explained union members and staff had been angered by the media coverage of the large bonuses and salaries of college principals and management when they refuse to concede the case for a fair pay increase for low paid staff.
At all campuses students were supportive, despite the college term only starting the day before. Clarke, a photography student at Glasgow Kelvin, Springburn campus, spent all morning taking photos of picket lines to share on social media and to send to the press and unions. He told us; “I’m angry with the SNP about what’s going on with the colleges. There’s constant cuts and it’s the students, teachers and staff who pay”.
In Dundee and Angus, all four college campuses were covered by Unison picket lines. Jim McFarlane, the Dundee City Unison branch secretary, told us; “It’s been an excellent response today. Our members have grown in confidence and the feedback we’ve had indicates the action has had a real impact. Members are ready for further action after today’s success.”
Pickets told us that since the college merger process support staff have faced ever increasing workloads and duties and are still facing working a 39-hour week.
Jennifer Dick, Unison shop steward for Dundee Gardyne college, said “support staff were fed up being treated as second class citizens”.
Over 500 strikers from across Scotland and their supporters gathered for a rally in Glasgow city centre at lunchtime. There were speeches from Unison pickets, the UCU, EIS- FELA trade unions and supportive students.
Chris Greenshields, Chair of the Unison FE committee, spoke laying out the strikers case. “Shona Struthers, CEO of Colleges Scotland, in a press release today said Unison members should rethink their course of action because they are getting a really good deal and should accept the reasonable offer.
“She attacks the Unison ballot for strike action as premature. We submitted the pay claim in February! The union has offered to meet but management have said take this offer or leave it.
“Struthers say’s we can’t afford it. What about the bonuses to senior managers? Unison estimates it would cost £450,000 nationally to give our members £450 each, £25,000 for each college. City of Glasgow have just paid out £35,000 in management bonuses. Principal’s salaries are up to £153,000 in Glasgow. If every principal got £90,000 a year our pay claim can be afforded. The extra government funding is going in one direction and not towards low paid staff and students. We don’t want a prolonged dispute but we are ready for it ”
Socialist Party Scotland member Brian Smith, branch secretary of Glasgow City Unison, made the point; “FE workers, like all public sector workers, are not to blame for austerity and that college management were misusing national bargaining instead of helping the lowest paid in the sector. They are trying to divide the workforce.
The first minster and deputy first minister are making speeches today about their priorities for government, ironically mainly education. They should step in and use their influence to resolve the dispute and give these low paid workers the increase they need and deserve”.
Further action, including coordinated strikes involving Unison, GMB and Unite, should be discussed as soon as possible.