Militancy at Lambeth College strike despite injunction

Estelle Cooch reports from today’s strike at Lambeth College

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The resistance by lecturers at Lambeth College to the vicious attacks on their pay and conditions is quickly becoming a beacon to trade unionists and activists everywhere.

The all-out strike that was meant to begin today has the potential to foster the support and solidarity that the victorious strike at Tower Hamlets college managed in 2009.

Because of this, management have turned to Tory anti-trade union laws to try to stop the action. Yesterday they were granted an injunction to stop the all-out strike for now, but UCU members still went ahead with a one-day strike this morning.

We arrived at 7:15 at the Brixton Hill site where the picket line was just being set up.

Frank, a UCU member, told us about the way forwards after the injunction: “The appeal takes place in the next two weeks. If we win that then we’re back into indefinite strike action and we’ve already put the re-ballot into process. The court injunction is very much a delaying tactic with the aim of damaging morale. We have a very short time now till summer (students break up on the 5th July) so we will need to convince our members it’s still the right thing to do in the short timeframe we have”

One of the things driving the militancy at Lambeth is the extent of the attacks.

Frank continued “Some teachers are reluctant to come out because they think at the moment it doesn’t affect them, but ultimately it will affect everyone. In five years time they’ll be worn out, totally unable to lead or inspire their students. Long term it will drive teachers out of the profession completely and we will stop attracting the best university graduates.”

Of course it’s only cuts for some. There is particularly strong anger towards the current principal. “When the principal gets his £130,000 salary a year and goes on jollys to New York it is hard to believe he has any idea what it’s like for the ordinary teacher.”

There was also support for the strike from the local NUT rep – and student at the college herself – Bridget Chapman.

She echoed what many of the pickets said – that teaching at Lambeth College wasn’t just about “getting the grades”, but was about inspiring students to better themselves and the community.

“I am always in awe of the lecturers at Lambeth College” she said, “the amount of work they do in a building that management has allowed to deteriorate is incredible. The quality of education here is second to none. I’ve been through the school system, done undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and I can honestly say this is the best educational experience of my life”.

2011 Save ESOL campaign in Lambeth College

2011 Save ESOL campaign in Lambeth College

There is anger among some students about the misinformation that management are putting out. Bridget said “Personally, I’ve complained about the misuse of my data by management. On the last strike they sent a text to all students saying the college was open as normal. Of course it wasn’t and there were cases of single mothers travelling a long way to find that out. It’s immoral and irresponsible.”

At the Vauxhall site, Jack reported, “Despite the dreary weather there were about 20 pickets all in good spirits. Everyone was itching to get out the door again now that the injunction has blocked the all-out strike. One lecturer said ‘It’s pretty obvious that management are running scared to the courts.’”

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At Clapham, one teacher, furious at the injunction, said “they tell us there is no money for college, yet they can afford to spend thousands on an injunction!” Another young maths teacher echoed this sentiment “It’s not us who is escalating the action, we want the students to have an education, we thought we had common ground with management, we hoped next week we’d be back negotiating at work. It’s the director that has gone for escalation.”

This evening (1st May) there will be a STRIKE RALLY at the Karibu Centre, Gresham Road, Brixton at 6pm for Lambeth College and a rally for the Ritzy Living Wage strike at 6:30PM Windrush Square, Brixton.

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