Report on special FEC meeting on the pay campaign, Friday 24th January
The FEC met on Friday 24th to discuss the next steps in our pay campaign. Unfortunately the committee very narrowly rejected proposals to take further strike in pursuit of our claim. Voting was very close or tied and the Chair exercised his casting vote twice ensuring that no further strike action was agreed. The outcome of this meeting has now left unclear what any next steps are to be in the campaign except producing badges and calling a lobby of Parliament over funding.
A survey of branch responses after the strike action on the 3rd Dec was presented to FEC members by the Secretariat. The survey showed that some branches, mainly the smaller, less confident branches, felt doubtful about being able to persuade members to take another day’s strike action. Others felt that they would prefer to come out with other teaching unions. Others reported good support for the strike. It is worth noting that 118 branches, just under 50%, had not responded to the survey.
It was on the findings of this survey that the FEC majority took an unrealistic and pessimistic view about the potential for action and narrowly voted down every proposal for developing a serious and effective strategy to win our pay dispute.
The most common criticism from the branch survey was that members did not feel that there was any serious campaigning strategy beyond an isolated one day strike.
The majority of the FEC who voted down further action did so on the basis that the strike had not shifted the AoC’s position and that they continue to refuse to further discuss the pay claim. However, as those delegates who argued for further strike action pointed out, nobody ever thought one day of strike action would in itself do the trick. In the ballot literature that was sent out and in the General Secretary’s all-members emails in the run up to the ballot it was emphasised that a one day strike would not be enough and further action would be needed. It was on this basis that the national ballot had delivered a 71% vote in favour of strike action over pay.
A number of FEC members, mainly UCU Left supporters, argued that December 3rd had been broadly a successful day of action. Of course it was uneven. However, the solution to ironing out this unevenness would not be to refuse to call any further action but to set out an integrated campaign strategy of local action and protests, national lobbies, and further strike action that would go beyond isolated one day strikes.
The position our FE members are now left with after the meeting on 24th , a refusal to call any further action, makes it harder to convince members to take action in the future. Many will just feel that they have thrown a day’s wages in the bin.
Those delegates who argued for a programme of further action also argued that the employers will feel far more confident to offer further pay cuts in the 2014 pay round if we do not organise further action and a serious campaign including escalating strike action.
The union now risks being seen as not seriously prepared to fight for its members’ living standards.
Those in favour of such a campaign tabled the following proposals:
1) To come out with HE UCU, unison and unite on the 6th Dec
2) To call a Further Education Sector Conference to discuss further action including taking strike action alongside the NUT.
3) If this sector conference agrees to come out on strike with the NUT in March
4) To strike on the first day of the pay negotiations and to organise a mass lobby of the negotiations
5) To lobby Parliament over FE funding
Ultimately, after two and a half hours of discussion, the FEC only supported proposal 5.
From the outset of this campaign there are those on the FEC who have blatantly ignored the expressed wishes of the members. They delayed implementing the unanimous decision of last year’s sector conference that called upon the FEC to organise a ballot for industrial action by having another branch survey. When the members, again, made it clear that they wanted to take action over pay they were reluctantly forced to act.
Now they have once again abused their positions as FEC members by ignoring members’ wishes and have shown contempt to the thousands of UCU members in colleges who struck alongside our colleagues in higher education on the 3rd December.
Several regional FE Committees, at their meetings on Saturday 25th January, voted to urge branches to demand a recall FEC and/or a Further Education Sector Conference to review the pay campaign situation and organise a serious strategy of escalating action, including further strike action, and to ensure the democratic mandate from the ballot outcome is implemented.
An appeal and a model motion have been circulated to branches.