Tower Hamlets College strike ends in partial victory

Tower Hamlets College strike ends in partial victory

After a month-long strike against cuts, teaching staff at Tower Hamlets College have voted to return to work.

UCU said it was "delighted" that an agreement has finally been reached.

UCU head of further education Barry Lovejoy said: "Our members have fought a tremendous campaign and UCU is pleased to have finally reached an agreement with the college.

However a worker at the college who had been posting updates on libcom.org posted the following comment which, while acknowledging important concessions were won, including the saving of 7 posts and improve redundancy deals, has important criticisms of the way the ending of the dispute was handled by the union:

The so-called victory is that there are no compulsory redundancies. Instead the 13 at risk were re-deployed or won appeals or have accepted so-called voluntary redundancy.

There was no withdrawal of the threat of compulsory redundancy.

There has been no agreement that there will be no further compulsory redundancies, or any other agreement about honouring our existing terms and conditions.

Through threats and bribes some of the compulsory redundancies have been re-named as voluntary. The pressure came both from management and from the union. Both national and local officials phoned up people at risk and told them they should take so-called voluntary redundancy. Two days before the Acas ‘breakthrough’ our mass meeting had affirmed that, it was clear that though most people wanted the strike to be over soon, we were prepared to see it through in order to protect these people, and these people were not under pressure to accept a deal.

The agreement states that compulsory redundancies have been avoided and this is the “victory” that the UCU, the SWP etc are crowing about. In fact there have been compulsory “voluntary” redundancies – people have been bullied into accepting “voluntary” redundancy.

This deal was sold through with the most outrageous manipulation of the mass meeting where discussion was suppressed before and during the meeting as far as possible, with members being shouted down by union officials.

In the short time there was for debate, many people spoke against accepting the deal but in the end there were 24 votes against, many abstentions and the clear majority voting to accept and go back to work. (though the meeting was of course smaller than our usual weekly meetings).

We returned to work Friday morning.Where I work there is relief to not have to stay on strike longer but also a lot of unease about how it ended and what we are now facing.

Comments

Chilli Sauce
Sep 25 2009 10:54

I apologize as this is just the AP write-up and is short on detail and analysis. I ask that folks post up links and stories as they come across them. Admins, feel free to edit if a better article comes out.

Alf
Sep 25 2009 20:04

On another thread, Rachel, who is libcom's most direct link to the strike, was not at all happy about the settlement. She said if I recall rightly that while the unions and the SWP would portray this as a victory, she herself felt gutted. It would be very helpful for all of us if Rachel could explain more why she feels like this.

Rachel
Sep 26 2009 21:26

The so-called victory is that there are no compulsory redundancies. Instead the 13 at risk were re-deployed or won appeals or have accepted so-called voluntary redundancy.

There was no withdrawal of the threat of compulsory redundancy.

There has been no agreement that there will be no further compulsory redundancies, or any other agreement about honouring our existing terms and conditions.

Through threats and bribes some of the compulsory redundancies have been re-named as voluntary. The pressure came both from management and from the union. Both national and local officials phoned up people at risk and told them they should take so-called voluntary redundancy. Two days before the Acas ‘breakthrough’ our mass meeting had affirmed that, it was clear that though most people wanted the strike to be over soon, we were prepared to see it through in order to protect these people, and these people were not under pressure to accept a deal.

The agreement states that compulsory redundancies have been avoided and this is the “victory” that the UCU, the SWP etc are crowing about. In fact there have been compulsory “voluntary” redundancies – people have been bullied into accepting “voluntary” redundancy.

This deal was sold through with the most outrageous manipulation of the mass meeting where discussion was suppressed before and during the meeting as far as possible, with members being shouted down by union officials.

In the short time there was for debate, many people spoke against accepting the deal but in the end there were 24 votes against, many abstentions and the clear majority voting to accept and go back to work. (though the meeting was of course smaller than our usual weekly meetings).

We returned to work Friday morning.Where I work there is relief to not have to stay on strike longer but also a lot of unease about how it ended and what we are now facing.

Alf
Sep 27 2009 10:28

Thanks Rachel, that is extremely informative. I think libcom admins should think about modifying or re-doing the above article in the light of what you have said.

Choccy
Sep 27 2009 12:21

Thanks Rachel.
I agree with Alf, an edit of that article would be appropriate. To be honest I was quite stunned when the author regurgitated an uncritical AP report and seemed to swallow the union's line. I'd expect a lot more scepticism and critical thinking from anyone here, especially in light of even the most recent of struggles (eg Visteon/Ford) where victories have been claimed that were nothing of the sort. The clarification from Rachel puts this in perspective, cheers.

Rachel
Sep 27 2009 13:11

I think ncwob just wanted to get something on quick and I was taking a long time - too close to the details and too emotional to write an update. I'm sure he didn't swallow the union line or expect anyone else too.

Reading what I've written and is now the main article worries me in another way now because it doesn't mention all the positive aspects, and there are many. 7 jobs (i.e. posts) were saved Even the redundancy deals aren't too bad - one had her payoff raised from £700 to £6000. Of course there are all sorts of brilliant things about the strike itself that need to be highlighted. But I think it's right to dispute the official version of the victory.

Choccy
Sep 27 2009 18:32

There are basic guidelines for writing news stories on here, and although I can see people want to 'break' stories quickly, there are ways of doing that are not commital and avoid going beyond what facts we actually have at hand.

I've jumped the gun on stories before and learned from it, no harm done, but it's good practice to at least try to be objective in news .

Steven.
Sep 27 2009 18:35

I think what the original poster did was for the best, it's good to break things as soon as possible, then we can update it later as more information becomes apparent.

Choccy
Sep 27 2009 18:57

yeah like i said no harm done

Alf
Sep 27 2009 20:38

Although we should, as a general rule, be sceptical when the unions cry victory.....Even when the workers do gain something from a struggle, the union/leftist interpretation always contains a distortion, mainly along the lines of: well done lads, we need more of the same, or to be even better 'trade unionists' next time.

Mike Harman
Sep 28 2009 03:56

@all - you should be able to edit pretty much any article on the site by using the edit tab. Edits don't go up immediately - it goes into a queue which we try to check regularly (but don't always, if it's something relatively urgent like this, leaving a comment to say there's a pending update can help in those cases). Especially in cases where something is either really brief, a c&p from a major news source, or there's important extra information which doesn't warrant a new article, it'd be great if more people did this.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 28 2009 08:49
Quote:
To be honest I was quite stunned when the author regurgitated an uncritical AP report and seemed to swallow the union's line.

ehhem...

Quote:
this is just the AP write-up and is short on detail and analysis. I ask that folks post up links and stories as they come across them. ...feel free to edit if a better article comes out.

Sorry, just needed to say my piece. As others have alluded to, I posted this up literally four minutes (according to the Google search) after the story went live.

Steven.
Sep 28 2009 11:02

On article revisions, some of these were taking us a while because the function which let admins see pending revisions was broken. This is now fixed and we are approving revisions quickly, we are also going through the backlog of pending revisions and have updated dozens of articles.

miles
Sep 28 2009 11:03

This is all very interesting, about how you can edit articles and stuff, but has anyone got anything to say about what's actually happened? It's important to try and draw some kind of a balance sheet of this struggle as, in my opnion, it's not just another struggle, but a pre-cursor of likely attacks in the education sector.

*What's been the extent of the self organisation - how much was solely union control? As Rachel says, there are many positive aspects of the struggle, the strength of feeling and unity of action amongst the staff chief amongst them... For the working class, its ability to organise itself (independently of the organs of the bourgeoisie) is one of the crucial aspects in the development of growing struggles.

*What's been the role of the union throughout the struggle? They seemed to have done very nicely out of the whole affair - recruiting many new members and, basically, controlling the struggle every step along the way and presenting this control as the 'sole' way of conducting the struggle... We're now told that, according to Rachel, several people have been pressurised from both the management and the union.

*What has the leftist circus added to the mix? as Rachel says the likes of the SWP will present this as a 'victory'... with the implication clearly being that, for her at least, it's not much of one. The worst kind of defeat for the working class is one where it thinks it has 'won' - when in actuality the bosses have got through the main things they wanted to. This 'victory' can then be generalised amongst the rest of the sector / class.

Nikki Shepherd
Sep 28 2009 16:59

Maybe they just voted to return to work because they realized that they are very lucky to have jobs in the first place. This is the way of the world right now. online casino

Steven.
Sep 28 2009 17:19

Nikki, a large majority of working age people in the UK have jobs. So I'm not sure how you are "very lucky" to not be in a small minority.

Of course, having a job is much better than not having a job, but if workers don't fight to defend their relatively stable, decent employment, then there won't be stable, decent jobs for unemployed people to get in the future either.

Finally, it is clear from the coverage that they voted to return to work because they achieved their main goal which was no compulsory redundancies, and felt that they couldn't win any more. The employer and the union clearly pushed this line on them as well.

Choccy
Sep 28 2009 19:42
ncwob wrote:
Sorry, just needed to say my piece. As others have alluded to, I posted this up literally four minutes (according to the Google search) after the story went live.

I wasn't the only person you'll notice who commented on it
and I'll be honest and say that my reaction was coloured by your comments on the 'victory' elsewhere - I shouldn't have conflated the two though.

Udo_Bukowski
Sep 29 2009 07:12

Steven seemed to handle this well, and he'd be better informed about a day old Libcom-er than me, but c'mon people - the threat of unemployment is one of those things you continually harp on about. We are you, minus the spending power. We are you, without your arrogant assumptions about "how it will never happen to me".

I will always argue for continuous employment for zero hours contracts, redundancy beyond statutory (and that includes tax-free pilon) et al, but this one is a hollow victory. Fuck, the job; it was hateful;the next will be as bad.

I'm ashamed that other libcoms accept TU radicalism.

admin - abuse deleted. What on earth was that about?

Yorkie Bar
Sep 29 2009 09:24

What the fu-uck?

~J.

miles
Oct 2 2009 18:18

Wasn't sure where to put this so added it here...

There has been strike action at 5 other Colleges

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8278194.stm

The basic argument is over the implementation of an outstanding pay reccomendation - what chance is there of that happening now that cutting is the order of the day? There's also the usual emotional blackmail of 'you're ruining the kids future'.

Alison
Oct 3 2009 14:00

It was definitely a messy last meeting and it is also true that, once we had accepted the principle of voluntary redundancies from the beginning of the strike, we would lose valuable provision and people could be bought off by an enhanced package during the the all out strike.

I still see this as a victory for ALL of us taking part. Michael Farley was determined to keep to the principle of compulsory redundancy right up until 8pm the night before the strike ended. The original motion for all-out was that no one should be sacked. No one was. I am a local union official there and I can say to anyone reading this that no official bullied anyone into accepting anything.

The reason for the victory call is that we did win the remit of the strike and in doing so won those things mentioned by Rachel. The confidence won through the action's solidarity and strength has meant that, one week back in, workers have already faced down bullying managers who got away with savage attacks on individual sections working conditions prior to the action. These are the real bullies who, by our collective action have been exposed for what they are.

The great thing is to see lecturers fight for themselves and feel powerful. If that can spread and be sustained then job done.

Alf
Oct 7 2009 08:49

extract from article in new World Revolution:
http://en.internationalism.org/2009/wr/328/union-framework

Tower Hamlets strike

The strike at Tower Hamlets College was remarkable in a number of respects. The very fact that a large proportion of the teaching staff, in all areas of the college, came out on indefinite strike against the threat to their colleagues' jobs was in itself a sign of determination and militancy when so many strikes have been reduced to symbolic one or two day affairs. Perhaps more important were the very clear expressions of class solidarity that accompanied this strike. This applies both to the strikers themselves and to significant numbers of other workers. The striking college teachers were members of the University and College Union, but from the beginning of the strike they kept their meetings open to all employees of the college; and when, during the strike, it became difficult for non-teaching staff who had not joined the strike to attend strike meetings during the working day, the striking teachers initiated lunchtime meetings where these members of staff could come and discuss with the strikers. There was a strong feeling on the part of the non-teaching staff, the majority of them members of Unison, that they should join the strike, although, as we shall see, this was thwarted by union legalism. The strikers also made a considerable effort to send delegations to other local colleges and workplaces and explain their situation to the workers there. This was reciprocated by the participation of a number of other workers on their picket lines - not only teachers from other colleges but firemen and others - and at the rallies called in support of the strike. It was evident from the start that the struggle at THC was not simply a reaction against a particularly hard-hearted principal and his personal plan to make THC more cost-efficient, but that the staffing cuts proposed at THC were an attempt to test the waters in preparation for much wider attacks in the education sector. It was this understanding above all that generated the widespread sympathy for the THC strike.

The willingness of the THC workers to stand up for their colleagues' jobs (which also have an important function in a local community where gaining an ESOL qualification is an essential component of finding employment) was a further sign that workers are not just lying down in the face of the attacks, and it may make other education bosses hesitate before resorting to overt job-cuts. This certainly explains the fact that the THC senior management were forced to make some concessions after four weeks of the strike, in particular withdrawing the initial insistence on compulsory redundancies.

However, although the UCU declared itself to be delighted with the results of the strike, and leftists like the SWP crowed about ‘victory', the real balance sheet is rather more mitigated, as we can see from these reflections by a THC striker who had been posting regularly on the libcom internet discussion forum. While acknowledging important concessions were won, including the saving of 7 posts and improved redundancy deals, she has important criticisms of the way the ending of the dispute was handled by the union:

"The so-called victory is that there are no compulsory redundancies. Instead the 13 at risk were re-deployed or won appeals or have accepted so-called voluntary redundancy.

There was no withdrawal of the threat of compulsory redundancy.

There has been no agreement that there will be no further compulsory redundancies, or any other agreement about honouring our existing terms and conditions.

Through threats and bribes some of the compulsory redundancies have been re-named as voluntary. The pressure came both from management and from the union. Both national and local officials phoned up people at risk and told them they should take so-called voluntary redundancy. Two days before the Acas ‘breakthrough' our mass meeting had affirmed that, it was clear that though most people wanted the strike to be over soon, we were prepared to see it through in order to protect these people, and these people were not under pressure to accept a deal.

The agreement states that compulsory redundancies have been avoided and this is the "victory" that the UCU, the SWP etc are crowing about. In fact there have been compulsory "voluntary" redundancies - people have been bullied into accepting "voluntary" redundancy.

This deal was sold through with the most outrageous manipulation of the mass meeting where discussion was suppressed before and during the meeting as far as possible, with members being shouted down by union officials.

In the short time there was for debate, many people spoke against accepting the deal but in the end there were 24 votes against, many abstentions and the clear majority voting to accept and go back to work. (though the meeting was of course smaller than our usual weekly meetings).

We returned to work Friday morning. Where I work there is relief to not have to stay on strike longer but also a lot of unease about how it ended and what we are now facing".

It was clear from discussions with the strikers that most if not all of them believed that the strengthening of their struggle was identical with the strengthening and growth of the UCU. And yet these remarks about the way the strike ended demonstrate the opposite: that the UCU was working with a very different agenda from that of the striking workers.

A crucial moment in the development of the strike, and one which allowed for this ambiguous settlement to be pushed through, was the ballot of the Unison workers about joining the strike. According to a number of the striking teachers, both before and after the ballot, the Unison workers had shown a clear majoirty in the course of large meetings in favour of joining the strike - a step which would have forced the management to close the collage rather than keeping it open with a skeleton crew. And yet the ballot, which had been delayed almost till the end of the strike, resulted in a very narrow defeat of the proposal to come out on strike. As one member of the libcom collective put it on hearing this news: "That's a good illustrator of the anti-working class nature of individualised, private ballots (the only ones which are legal). It's easy to feel demoralised and isolated voting at home in private - as opposed to a mass meeting where you can gain collective confidence and a sense of power".

The problem here was that although the UCU workers were very keen to keep their meetings open to the Unison workers, and the latter were equally keen to show their solidarity, there was not yet sufficient understanding of the need to put control of the struggle into the hands of the meetings, to insist that the decision to strike should have been made not in separate (and atomising) union ballots, but in the mass meetings themselves. That would have meant an open rejection of ballots and challenging the legalism of the trade unions. This proved a step too far on this occasion, but the lessons are there to be learned for future struggles.

posi
Oct 9 2009 11:58

Interview with two strikers in latest issue of the commune.

http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/lessons-of-the-tower-hamlets-esol-strike/

posi
Oct 13 2009 17:47

article by one of the interviewees here about one of their unofficial action earlier in the year here: http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/workers-revolt-against-vygotsky-an-account-of-unofficial-action-at-tower-hamlets-college/

Steven.
Oct 13 2009 18:14

Thanks for that - I was going to ask Rachel for an account of what happened that day, because it looked very interesting from the article about the strike.

Rachel
May 18 2010 07:32

Quick update on Tower Hamlets - like other colleges we are facing massive cuts (10% for us, 25% for others). We were part of a coordinated UCU ballot with 10 other London colleges for escalating strike action which is so far just one-day strikes, we decided not to strike with some other colleges today (only 4 left of the 11) but still a possibility for the future.

This time management want to avoid confrontation with the teachers (and probably managed to get enough 'voluntary' redundancies to avoid compulsories) but are heavily targeting the non-teaching staff. They are much weaker than us but trying to get organised. The most interesting thing going on is that UCU people now feel that all action must be coordinated with support st aff, that there is no point in doing anything on our own.

So all meetings will be organised jointly (our meetings were always open to all staff at college) and today we're having a 'union awareness' lunchtime picnic where all staff are invited to socialise and plan. The idea is to make sure everyone's joined a union but we're also to encourage coordination between all workers in the college, something our national unions seem to have little interest in.

Steven.
May 18 2010 08:30

thanks for the update Rachel, interesting developments. The scale of the cuts we are facing at the moment is pretty terrifying...

Choccy
May 18 2010 09:38

Good luck Rachel!

Jason Cortez
May 18 2010 10:43

good initative.