National Union of Teachers members in sixth form colleges will be striking on Tuesday 15 March after a ballot over funding which returned 86% in favour of strikes on a 44% turnout. NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “This strong ballot result shows the strength of feeling amongst sixth-form college teachers. Sixth-form colleges provide a vital service to over 150,000 young people, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Funding has already been cut in real terms by 14 per cent and further real-terms cuts of 8 per cent are now planned. Colleges are dropping courses and increasing class sizes. If this situation is not reversed, many colleges will face closure. This clearly has a direct impact on the terms and conditions of our members as well as the education of many young people. The situation is untenable. It is simply wrong that government has put NUT members in the position that the only way to defend their terms and conditions is by taking strike action."
The huge deficit in funding affects Further Education (FE) colleges too. On Wednesday 24 February thousands of UCU and Unison members in FE colleges struck over a pay freeze imposed by employers, a further symptom of the funding crisis. However previous attempts to fight the chronic underfunding by FE college workers have been left hanging by UCU. Workers were left hanging when strikes in 2014 over pay were called off and no improved deal was reached. Groups of workers in colleges who have fought job cuts and course closures have been left isolated. There are as yet no public plans to coordinate strikes between NUT members in Sixth Form Colleges and UCU and Unison members in FE colleges, but it would be stupid not to coordinate. The issues of pay and funding are linked, and union members from all unions need to know their union is going to back them up in a fight to save Further Education.
Small Heath school fight continues
Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Small Heath School in Birmingham began a new programme of strikes on Tuesday 9 February to defend their workplace rep, Simon O’Hara, who has been suspended from work since 7 January. The ostensible justification for the suspension appears to be what Birmingham NUT describes as “very flimsy allegations”.
There is little doubt that the real reason is that he has been a vocal critic of proposals to turn the school into an academy and an effective defender of teachers facing unreasonable workload demands. The allegations date back to November last year. Simon was suspended in January only two days after his members voted for escalating action against academy status. Simon O’Hara has been victimised for carrying out his role as union rep. The main campaign to oppose academy status has been hugely successful. Campaigning by parents, staff and pupils, together with strike action by teachers, led to the withdrawal of the academy threat and the replacement of the old Interim Executive Board with a new body without the proposed academy sponsors.
The NUT have announced a rolling programme of nine strikes to defend Simon. To date that action has been extremely well-supported and always included lively and large picket lines. The need for support and solidarity is greater now than ever given that local Labour politicians (Shabana Mahmood MP and the Council Cabinet member for Education Brigid Jones) have decided to launch public attacks on the teachers and the NUT.
They call on them to rely on the normal disciplinary procedures within the school. As Birmingham NUT put it, however, “those hearings and appeals will be presided over by an employer which has already, we believe, misused the school’s disciplinary procedure resulting in Simon’s unjustified suspension.”
Simon O’Hara and NUT members at Small Heath need all the support our movement can muster. • Email the school to insist that the suspension is lifted: firstname.lastname@example.org • Send messages of support via email@example.com • Sign and share the online petition • If near Birmingham, demonstrate support by joining staff on their picket lines.
Firefighters fight cuts
Firefighters in the West Midlands and in South Yorkshire are planning industrial action against job cuts and chronic staff shortages. Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members in West Midlands are fighting a local cut to nationally agreed overtime pay rates which may mean less firefighters opting to do overtime shifts, and increasing the liklihood of staff shortages. Firefighters in the area will start an overtime ban from Thursday 3 March. FBU members in South Yorkshire are balloting for strikes over job cuts which will include cutting a quarter of all emergency control operators.
Pete Smith, regional secretary of the FBU said: “Emergency control staff are the very first people you’ll speak to when you’re in an emergency. Firefighters rely on them to get all the vital information to perform a rescue as fast and efficiently as possible. They are an invaluable component of the lifesaving service firefighters provide.
″The public in South Yorkshire will be put at greater risk if these posts are cut.″
Union campaign saves ticket offices
London Underground has been forced to back off from plans to close ticket offices at stations on the north end of the Bakerloo Line, following a campaign by the RMT union.
The stations were transferred into the Tube network from now-defunct train company Silverlink, and as such are subject to more stringent regulations. LU was obliged to conduct a public consultation on the planned closures, which the RMT used to mobilise a high-profile campaign, including a large demonstration outside Queen's Park station in January.
Following the consultation, London TravelWatch, the statutory body for public transport in London, blocked the closure. LU has agreed to keep ticket offices open at least until new machines are installed at the end of 2016, and possibly beyond. This is the first time London Underground has been forced to back down from a planned ticket office closure once it had been announced. It is a significant win for workers and passangers. It creates a precedent that other stations should have ticket offices!