THE PERILS OF GIVING UP WHEN YOU ARE WINNING – LESSONS FROM THE SCOTTISH FE DISPUTE
The UCU pensions dispute has now reached a point very similar to the dispute in Scottish FE in 2016/17. We went out to win common pay and conditions for lecturers across Scotland. The employers caved in very quickly and agreed, or rather, appeared to agree to all our demands. After just one day of national strike action they offered negotiations and at 3am in the morning of 19 May 2016, after 15 hours of negotiations signed a document granting the pay we wanted and promising to agree harmonised conditions by October 2016. To us negotiators it seemed that victory was complete since they even said they would not to dock wages for our strike! We returned to work confident that this was a case of ‘job done.’
Unfortunately, what happened next was not what we expected. Almost immediately management came up with a scam to withhold some of the pay they had agreed, and it took a Tribunal decision to force them to fulfil that commitment. More worrying still, because we were exhausted as union negotiators and by 3am had not pinned down exact details of the conditions element, management dragged their feet. At each subsequent negotiation meeting they put forward ever more preposterous and unacceptable proposals. They evidently hoped that the new anti-union legislation that was pending would prevent a successful strike ballot. Months passed. The October 2016 deadline came and went, so in March 2017, a year after we thought we had won, we had to return to strike action once again.
The good news is that we were again successful and virtually all our demands were ultimately met. But the lesson is clear. Unions should not throw away successful strike campaigns until the victory is properly confirmed, the ’t’s crossed, and the ‘i’s dotted. Promises of jam tomorrow are no substitute.
EIS-FELA national negotiator (in a personal capacity).