Picket line college lecturers say strike is most significant they have taken

Striking college lecturers have said the industrial action is the most significant they have taken because of the cost-of-living crisis.

About 4,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 31 colleges in England will take up to 10 days of strike action over the coming weeks.

The union said the level of industrial action being undertaken is unprecedented in England, with lecturers and other staff determined to picket outside colleges on each morning of strike action.

Staff at Southwark College, in south London, were on the official UCU picket line on Monday handing out flyers, holding up signs and playing instruments.

College lecturers strike
Naomi Felton joins lecturers on the picket line outside Southwark College (Gina Kalsi/PA)

Naomi Felton, 40, from Greenwich, who works in the access course department and was on the picket line outside the college entrance, believes the strike is more important than ever due to the cost-of-living crisis.

She said: “It’s the most significant strike we’ve ever had because I think it’s becoming more and more desperate, and if they want to keep people in further education then they need to pay us more.

“We’ve been on a pay freeze for 12 years, we’re earning £9,000 less than school teachers and we work just as hard. Further education has recently got an injection of funding, but managers are choosing not to invest it in our salaries and people are just fed up really.”

Vilma Parkes, 45, from south-east London, who works in the English as a second language department at Southwark College, said: “There is strength in numbers.

College lecturers strike
Vilma Parkes said college lecturers are overlooked and underpaid (Gina Kalsi/PA)

“This is a plausible course where teachers are one of the many backbones of the country. Most of the time we’re overlooked and underpaid, even during the pandemic a lot of us gave our time.

“Also, it’s not about the money but it’s about the respect. I’m here today to support my colleagues as well.”

Those striking and their supporters brought an array of musical instruments, including two types of bell and a drum, but a neighbour shouted from a property opposite the college to complain about the noise, saying she worked nights and had to sleep.

One of the UCU members crossed the road to speak to her and those on the picket stopped playing their instruments.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Strike action on this scale in further education is unprecedented but our members have been left with no other option, they are being pushed into poverty by college bosses who refuse to raise pay to help them meet the cost-of-living crisis.

“College staff deliver excellent education but over the last 12 years their pay has fallen behind inflation by 35% and now thousands are skipping meals, restricting energy use and considering leaving the sector altogether.

“This strike action will continue for 10 days unless college bosses wake up to this crisis, stop dining off the goodwill of their workforce and make a serious pay offer.”