Organising to win a national FE ballot

Online zoom meeting: Organising to win a national FE ballot.  

6.30pm on Tuesday 7th of February  


Meeting ID: 839 7634 2324 Passcode: 605496 

Open organising meeting.  

All welcome, please pass on to UCU further education colleagues.  

Build national action that can win in FE. 

UCU’s Further Education Committee (FEC) voted last week to launch a nationally aggregated ballot over pay, workloads and binding national bargaining. In the last decade our wages have been cut by 30% and 25,000 jobs have gone. Over one million adult education student places have been deleted. 

Our working lives are dominated by managerialism that leads to bullying and harassment. Teaching, increasingly, is becoming our second job as management expect us to chase attendance, input increasing amount of meaningless data in attempt to measure everything we and our students do and be social workers for generation of young people who suffer physical and mental health problems created by the pandemic and increased poverty. 

This must stop. It is time for change. 

Since 2017 our strategy in FE has been to attempt to organise nationally coordinated local action. With the introduction of the government trade union thresholds we could not reach the 50% thresholds on a national scale to allow legal strike action. The aim was to win local battles over pay and conditions and to build branch capacity to enable them to beat the thresholds. 

This strategy has paid off. The first round of coordinated action in 2017 saw CCCG and Sandwell College make significant landmark pay deals. A number of other colleges followed. Similarly, in this year’s round of coordinated action a number of branches have taken successful action and made gains and not just the usual suspects. Branches in the NW took action for the first in many years. Sheffield College, who are striking now over pay, haven’t struck for over a decade. 

However, this strategy has not been successful for all. Out of the 33 branches in this round of coordinated action 13 did not manage to get a deal and are still in dispute with their employers despite taking significant strike action. To ensure that we win for all we need to build a national strike movement in FE to force the government and the AoC to pay us a decent living wage. 

The point of the nationally coordinated strategy of local disputes was not an end in itself, it was a strategy to allow us to build capacity to be able to take national action. We have reached this point. 

There were some on the FEC who opposed this strategy arguing that we are not in a position to break through the thresholds in a nationally aggregated ballot. They cite the 28% turnout in last year’s national indicative ballot. Of course, we all recognise that some branches will need support from local and national UCU offices. But this is the point, there was no campaign or resources put in by UCU in the last national indicative ballot. Our colleagues in HE have demonstrated, brilliantly, that this can be done. FE wants the same kind of mobilisation of national and regional resources as HE did in their successful attempt to get over the thresholds. 

Those who opposed the move to build for a nationally aggregated ballot fail to recognise the context we are now fighting in and the impact it is having on our members in FE. With the biggest wave of industrial action seen in a generation many are asking in FE, ‘Why aren’t we out with them?’. 

If the NEU, with 300,000 members, can break through the thresholds, then UCU FE with 30,000 members can do so too. 

But there is even more of a worrying argument put by those on the FEC who oppose moving to a nationally aggregated ballot. They argue even if we were successful in breaking through the thresholds on a nationally aggregated basis, and reached a decent agreement on pay and conditions, it wouldn’t make any difference because the agreement would not be implemented by the majority of colleges. 

This really misses the point. If we were successful in winning a significant deal and only 40% of colleges implemented the AoC recommendation this would be a massive step for a significant section of our members and it would inspire those members in the 60% of colleges who fail to implement it, to do something about! 

But also, it is a defeatist argument because it accepts that we can’t win at a national level. We can only attempt to eke out deals on a college-by-college basis. Our campaign this year will be about fighting for negotiating structures that have nationally binding agreements. The re-classifying of FE as part of the public sector also provides us with an opportunity to push for funding parity with schools. 

Our fight this year we will need to target government as well as the AoC for more funding for FE. How successful we will be will be determined by how must action our members will be prepared to take. This is a debate we will need to have. But first we need to break through the trade union thresholds.   

We call on all UCU officers in FE to start to prepare their members for the fight to put FE at the heart of the resistance for pay, conditions and a national bargaining structure that is binding. 

Cecily Blyther, UCU FEC Rep. Casually employed members FE, Petroc 

Dharminder Singh Chuhan, UCU FEC Rep. FE UK, Sandwell College 

Nina Doran, UCU FEC Rep. FE UK, Liverpool College (attached) 

Delmena Doyle, UCU FEC Rep. FE London & East, Croydon College 

Peter Evans, UCU FEC Rep. LGBT+ members FE 

Naina Kent, UCU FEC Rep. FE UK, Hackney ACE 

Richard McEwan, UCU FEC Rep. FE London & East, New City College 

Juliana Ojinnaka, UCU FEC Rep. Black members FE, The Sheffield College 

Regine Pilling, UCU FEC Rep. Women members FE, Capital City College Group 

Saleem Rashid, UCU FEC Rep. FE UK, The Sheffield College 

Elaine White, UCU FEC Rep. FE North East, Bradford College 

Sean Vernell, UCU FE National Negotiator, Capital City College Group  

The Special FEC held on the 25th January voted in favour. 

The FEC resolves:  

1)    Put forward a claim for 2023/24 (and conditions now) 

2.     Launch a campaigning consultative ballot of branches in England to run 20th Feb for three weeks.  

– The e-consultation campaign to include: 

– A national online launch meeting explaining to contact members directly 

– A video tutorial sent to reps on how to use mail merge for GTVO 

– Thrutext services for branches 

– A central campaign of messages and emails to members from the General Secretary’s office 

– leaflets for branches and reminders to vote 

3)    The question on the consultative ballot to be: Are you prepared to take strike action to secure an above inflation pay rise, binding national bargaining structures and a national workload agreement? 

4)    Call an online FESC on 11th March to discuss 23/24 pay campaign and including holding a nationally aggregated ballot. 

5)    Launch a nationally aggregated ballot to run between 20th March and 1st May. If the FESC agrees to do so. 

6)    This year’s claim will be: i) Inflation + 2%, ii) Demand for binding national negotiating structures and iii) workload element. 

7)    To send a message of solidarity to NEU. 

Adapt as the basis for a model motion from your branch: 

Branch notes: 

  1. The cost-of-living crisis and inflation at 10.5% 
  2. The whole movement is rising and winning ballots.  

Branch believes:  

  1. We need national action in further education to put pressure on the government and employers to defend our living standards. 

Branch resolves: 

  1. Support the decision of the FEC for a nationally aggregated ballot.  
  2. Calls on every member to vote and vote yes in the upcoming e-ballot.  
  3. To organise a branch, Get The Vote Out campaign meeting.  
  4. Elect a delegate to send to the FESC in march.  
  5. To contact other local FE branches to share ideas, support each other and build the campaign.  
  6. Offer support and solidarity to striking unions in our localities, communities and regions.  

If passed send to FEC Chair; copy in your regional FEC member and vice chair 

Online zoom meeting: Organising to win a national FE ballot.  

6.30pm on Tuesday 7th of February  


Meeting ID: 839 7634 2324 Passcode: 605496 

All welcome, please pass on to further education colleagues.  

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