By a london college lecturer
Lecturers at 47 of England’s 280 Further Education colleges came out on strike on 25 February over the non-implementation of a national pay deal agreed in 2004. Although the strike was an important step forward in the campaign, the leadership of the lecturers’ union, NATFHE, seem to have little will to lead a serious fight.
The present situation is the result of the 2004 deal. Although there are good aspects to the deal, particularly the shortening of the pay scale so that lecturers reach the top of it more quickly, it was a long way short of meeting the long-standing demand for equal pay with school teachers. It effectively ended the campaign to win parity.
Delegates at a special conference in 2004 rejected the deal, but the national leadership refused to put a strong case for rejecting the deal to the membership, who accepted the deal in a ballot.
The deal also had no commitment to fund it from the Government (a real weakness!) and no mechanism for requiring that it be implemented. As a result, only a handful of colleges have implemented the deal anything like in full.
Accurate information is hard to come by even for union members, but it would appear that only 10-20% of colleges have implemented the deal to any substantial degree.
In this context, the union’s leadership’s decision to ballot only 75 colleges can only be seen as perverse. The national deal was agreed in May 2004, yet they accepted an undertaking from college managements to open negotiations on the pay deal in January 2005 as a reason not to ballot in those colleges. The ballot produced a 75% vote for action, but the action was further diluted when the action was suspended in 28 colleges where management overtook open negotiations.
An alternative to the national union’s caution is possible. One college, Barnet, which had received the pay award came out on the 25th, using the moribund London weighting campaign as a vehicle, and showed that the feeling for a national strike for national pay still exists.
A special NATFHE conference will be held on 12 March, and it is likely that this will vote to return to national action on pay. In this context, the union leadership’s announcement of a national ballot on a one-day strike on pensions to open on 14 March might well be a ploy to head off demands for action over pay. The priority now is to rebuild the national pay campaign while co-ordinating action on pensions with other unions.