Shortly before the half term break it was announced that NUT members in sixth form colleges would be staging a one day strike in the week after half term (23 February) following the results of two ballots, one on pay and conditions and one on cuts to funding in this sector of education. At our college, there was very little discussion about this, although there was a visit from the leader of the Waltham Forest NUT to explain what the action would be about. As usual in such circumstances, there was no attempt to explain the issue to workers who weren’t in the NUT, such as non-teaching staff. One or two members of the NUT, who normally keep myself and Miles informed about what’s going in the college branch, asked whether the Open Discussion Forum would be calling a meeting so there could be a wider discussion about the strike. Once again, we faced the possibility of a strike involving just one part of the workforce, facing other workers with the problem of crossing a picket line. This is precisely what we had discussed in previous meetings of the forum prior to the June and November days of action on pensions, and these meetings had played a positive role in convincing a number of employees that they should join the strike and not cross picket lines. We agreed to try and get a meeting organised, although given that it was on the eve of a week’s holiday, it would be difficult to do much publicity other than sending an email to staff, which pointed out that the issues affected everyone in the college, and trying to contact one or two of the more politicised students. My feeling was that there was a real danger that this strike would have the effect of creating divisions between employees that would undermine the potential for united action when bigger events (such as a possible big protest around pensions in March) were on the horizon.
By the end of the half term the confusion about this action had trebled. Miles had learned that the NUT had decided that this would be a London action only, involving just 12 colleges; that it would be a half day not a whole day; and that the focus would be a lobby of parliament. The NUT members at our college were very unsure of what was happening. There is no rep at the college because the previous one, an SWP guy who was very keen, had moved to a different job and nobody was very enthusiastic about replacing him. A couple of members called for an NUT meeting on the same lunchtime we had called the forum meeting. This meant that the only person who came to the room where the forum was to be held apart from Miles and myself was the Unison shop steward who has recently started work there as part of the site staff. So after a brief discussion the three of us decided to go along to the NUT meeting and there was no objection to us taking part.
The sense of disorientation among the NUT members (about half the college membership were present) was palpable. Virtually everyone felt pissed off with the union for the way it had mucked them about, changing the focus from a national action to a London action, and from a day-long strike, which would have made it feasible to organise a picket line and might have had some impact, to a half day one, in which everyone is already at work and which would be more like an outing for a few people. Some people felt that they should go on with the half day strike because it would look like backing down, or that it should be maintained because some kind of action needs to take place within the remit of the ballot or there would have to be another ballot. But the majority thought that the half day strike would have no impact and would mean losing half a day’s pay for nothing. In the end it was decided that a delegation of four or five would be sent to lobby parliament. Probably an arrangement could be made with management so that they would not be considered to be on strike. It was also agreed that a letter should be sent to the NUT complaining about the whole way this had been (dis)organised.
It would be interesting to know whether anyone else who works in this sector had similar experiences.