FE Strikes: Further Education on the Picket Lines

This article first published in the Scottish Socialist Voice, March 2024.

Staff in all job roles in Scotland’s Further Education colleges are striking back against pay
cuts and the threat of compulsory redundancies.

College lecturers and support staff – members of EIS-FELA and UNISON respectively –
united on the picket lines in their initial joint one-day strike, on 29th February. Further action
is planned to demand the funding from the Scottish Government and guarantees on pay and
jobs from College Employers Scotland.

These workers have not had a pay rise in 18 months. Meanwhile, college principals are
wallowing in mindboggling salaries which put them on a different planet to the hard-working
staff they refuse to give inflation-proofed pay.

The most notorious is Paul Little, principal and CEO of City of Glasgow college, whose basic
salary is over £170,000, and who has been exposed plundering public funds to the tune of
£100,000 for his endless international flights and luxury accommodation, including £13,000
for staying in a private members’ club in London. Even the most imaginative of Creative
Writing courses would be hard pressed to explain how that benefits the education of wall-to-
wall working-class students!

And as one of the pickets at ‘his’ college told me, Dr Doolittle’s expenses included £9,000 in
travel costs in 2020 – the year of almost total lockdown for mere mortals!

Lecturers have suffered real terms pay cuts of £6,500 since 2021, a 15% reduction in their

Lower paid support staff have now gone two Christmases without a pay rise, and when the
Scotland-wide UNISON Further Education branch leadership requested a pre-Christmas
advance of £2,000 to avert strike action whilst continuing negotiations, it took college bosses
a full two months to even respond. When they did, in February, it was to reject this, and stick
to their latest ‘final’, final offer of a three-year deal, which still includes the threat of
compulsory redundancies.

As Chris Greenshields, UNISON FE branch secretary, told the well-attended Online ‘Post
Picket Parlais’:

“We should recall this started with a 2% offer, and when we said ‘No’ they changed to 3.5%.
Again, members rejected, and the employers came back with a two-year offer, but with
compulsory redundancies. Again, we said ‘No’ to this, so now it’s a three-year deal, still with
compulsory redundancies threatened. But after 3 months of not having a single formal
meeting with the employers, the people with the authority to make decisions, now they’ve
said they will talk to us. Striking does make a difference.”

That point was repeated on the picket line, when an EIS-FELA rep told us how the prolonged
strike action at City of Glasgow college forced the employers to withdraw compulsory
redundancies, at least until 2025, but when the UNISON rep approached them for the same
guarantee, HR point blank told them ‘No, the lecturers went on strike, you didn’t!’ Strike
action works!

These college staff – regardless of job roles – are determined to win the funding to defend
Further Education, a vital public service for working-class people of all ages.
The first strike day was powerful and united. New members joined up to their union on the
picket lines – including a woman who’d been told by her parents the night before “No
daughter of ours will be going on a picket line!” New union reps have stepped up to the plate
during this marathon battle.

As Chris Greenshields put it,

“We’ve used the force of argument and won that. But the employers are making us use the
argument of force. We can win if we stand firm.”

And their struggle raises the immediate broader issues of how colleges are governed, and
the need for massive mobilisation against the £100million cuts to Further and Higher
Education in the SNP/Scottish Green Party government’s Budget.

Strikers applauded when, as a guest speaker at the post-picket UNISON strikers’ meeting, I
made the points:

“Demand the Scottish government come out of hiding and insist on their much-trumpeted
policy of no compulsory redundancies in the public sector.

“Demand the Scottish government climb down off the fence and stop the decimation of
education by grotesquely overpaid principals who treat colleges as their personal fiefdoms.

“They should sack the Boards, not hard-working, dedicated staff, and introduce a system of
democratically elected Boards which include representatives of staff unions and student

Strikers showed warm appreciation of the solidarity visits to their picket lines by SSP
members; that support will continue until they win!