By Matt Dobson
The SNP-led Scottish government has sided with College Scotland’s cuts program and anti-trade union agenda by trying to pressure the EIS FELA college lecturers trade union to call off the planned escalation of its national strike.
The strike action has currently concluded its 6th day and is in its fourth week. EIS FELA has rightly refused to suspend the action. In fact management intransigence is being met with larger and larger pickets.
SNP education minister John Swinney said in a statement to the Scottish parliament: “I asked the EIS to suspend the planned strikes due to take place this week and going forward while this process of active dispute resolution is in progress. For the Scottish Government to directly intervene and force a resolution would mean the end of national bargaining. I am not prepared to consider that outcome.”
Swinney’s disgraceful intervention also attempted to divide students and lecturers when he said, “Currently the EIS plans to escalate the action to three strike days a week until the beginning of next month. That escalation will see the impact on students deepen and harden with some at real risk in this crucial end-of-year period of not being able to progress to future years’ study or, indeed, qualify.”
The majority of college students support the EIS FELA action. Students from colleges in Glasgow and Lanarkshire organised a “support the lecturers” rally which 600 attended in Glasgow on 17th May, including EIS General secretary Larry Flanagan.
Cheryl, a student organiser of the demonstration, spoke at the rally. “We need to get them (Colleges Scotland) telt. This is a fight so our lecturers can have proper time to prepare our classes and work. This is about cuts. They want to save money rather than give us a decent education”.
EIS FELA members are outraged Swinney refused to call on Colleges Scotland to #honourthe deal agreed in March 2016. EIS FELA had offered to suspend the strikes and negotiate the terms and conditions element if Colleges Scotland released the funding for the April pay settlement, the funding for which Colleges Scotland representatives publicly admit is availiable.
The SNP announced the appointment of specialist negotiator QC John Sturrock of Core Solutions, at great financial cost, to deal with the dispute.
Labour MSP Neil Findley has also claimed that a lobbying firm Charlotte Street Partners (CSP), with connections to SNP politicians, is running a campaign to keep the most significant dispute in education in Scotland either out of the press or with biased coverage against the striking lecturers.
The SNP’s actions during this dispute has led to a major backlash as their supposed “anti-austerity”, “pro-trade union” stance is further exposed as empty rhetoric.
Swinney made his anti-trade union statement an hour after Sturgeon and SNP MSPs celebrated ten years of the SNP in government at Holyrood.
Hundreds of EIS FELA members and their friends and families have vented their rage on social media saying they will no longer vote for or support the SNP in the coming general election. Some are also publicly resigning from the party.
Lynsey, a lecturer at Glasgow Kelvin, told the Socialist “National Bargaining was an SNP manifesto pledge. I’ll be cancelling my membership. They do not care about us or the future generation we teach”.
Socialist Party Scotland has consistently raised that the experience of workers in struggle would shatter illusions in the “anti-austerity, radical” credentials of the SNP.
Nicola Sturgeon and Transport minister Humza Yusuf sided with Scotrail bosses against the RMT guards strike action last summer. For many public sector workers and increasingly in wider society there are questions raised about the SNP’s role in implementing cuts and pay freezes in councils and the NHS.
This week in the Scottish parliament SNP MSPs struggled to defend the pay cap for nurses. The SNP are under pressure over implementing cuts to colleges while allowing principals to take massive salaries. There are also questions about standards in schools slipping, with the SNP governments curriculam for excellence coming under scrutiny.
Socialist Party Scotland and TUSC fully supports the strike action of EIS FELA and condemns the approach of the SNP.
The union should continue to escalate the strike action and it’s right that a national demonstration has been called on Saturday 20th May in Glasgow.
Political pressure must be applied with mass lobbies and pickets of SNP politicians and Colleges Scotland. Students and student associations must mobilise for this action and urgently discuss organising mass action, including walkouts in the colleges in support of the lecturers.
Time is short until the end of term, but a victory for EIS FELA would be a major confidence boost to all workers and young people. It would feed into the campaign of national action over pay of Unison council workers. The STUC and TUC must discuss national co-ordinated strike action to push back austerity.