As we reported earlier, the staff at Lambeth College in South London are waging a determined struggle against cuts to conditions and jobs. Today, June 11th, saw a rally outside its Clapham site in support of the indefinite strike action being waged by UCU members, who are also now joined by their comrades in Unison. The rally was very successful and shows how much support and enthusiasm the workers here have. If they can maintain their determination and unity, they can win their struggle.
The rally began at 11am with a summer fete type atmosphere, with a gazebo, banners, a barbecue and music. Then at about 11.30 the approximately 150-200 supporters gathered around to hear speeches from trade unionists about the struggle. A comrade called Mandy from UCU explained that the action is the first ever joint action between UCU and Unison at the college, which shows the unity of the workers. She and many other speakers after her pointed out the tremendous support the strike has gained from other trade unionists in London thanks to the struggle’s symptomatic and symbolic character for the wider cuts programme. She announced that the strike fund they’ve raised from donations amounts to more than £10,000, and this was before speaker after speaker from other union branches pledged hundreds of pounds each. For example, one branch of Unison gave £140, the Camden branch pledged £300. SOAS Unison gave £500 each to the Unison and UCU branch’s at Lambeth College, and the RMT’s Eurostar branch gave £125 and another £200 came from a London Underground branch.
We have explained the nature of the cuts at Lambeth in the previous article, which include the shutting down of the site at Brixton and replacing it with a ‘Free’ School to be run by a known bigot. One of the speakers pointed out that there are 2,000 jobs currently going in Further Education, which is an incredibly important resource especially for the poorer sections of society.
An official from the UCU praised the Lambeth workers for not being deterred by the use of anti-trade union laws, which initially ruled the strike out. They took a second vote with the same level of support for strike action and as a result are on indefinite strike now. He also was able to report that the principal of the school, Mark Silverman (who has managed to spend £35,000 on a new office for himself – almost twice as much as the £20,000 he estimates the college will save from cutting sick pay!), had written to the UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt to tell her not to make inflammatory remarks about him in her speeches! This warning was duly ignored.
Another striking worker pointed out that, despite the principal attempting to dismiss the strike by wrongly claiming it was failing, he also advertised for Head of Human Resources stressing that applicants needed to have experience of a ‘heavily unionised workplace’! And an NUT official linked the attacks to those happening in education globally, saying there is an international agenda to privatise education, attacking teachers conditions and focusing solely on exam results.
Interestingly, he correctly argued that although protecting public education is very important, the key problem is the poverty of society under capitalism, which prevents millions from getting a good education and also finding a positive use for it. In this way the education system is constantly undermined by the general problems of capitalist society.
The workers have a lot of support and seem very militant, determined and united. If they keep that up they can win – although the bosses will come back again with more cuts another time. What we really need is the unity between the unions demonstrated here on a national level, as well as their willingness to take the necessary long-term strike action to win. The leaders of the national trade union movement must organise a general strike, which almost two years ago they pledged to ‘look into’ (we’ve heard nothing since). They need to be prepared to convince the workers of the need to take longer term action than just 24 or 48 hours, which many workers would be prepared to do if they felt they could win on that basis. Above all, they need to show the elan, confidence and courage of the workers at Lambeth in the fight against not one cut, but the system which is breeding the cuts as a whole – capitalism.
by Daniel Morley, KCL Marxists