Another two days of action

1st June 2001 at 01:00
The mood was one of defiance as lecturers' union NATFHE held its conference in Scarborough. Francis Beckett reports

The one-day college lecturers' strike on May 22 will be followed by two days of further action to coincide with October's Labour Party conference, unless the pay dispute is settled.

The lecturers' union NATFHE's annual conference in Scarborough agreed at the weekend a programme of industrial action devised by its executive. Union leaders successfully fought off challenges from the left to resume strike action this month, and from the right to defer a decision on strike action.

Lecturers will be asked to take "action short of a strike" in the run-up to the October strike. The nature of this action will vary from college to college.

Delegates were buoyed up by May 22. "The Association of Colleges did not believe we could deliver a successful strike," said Mick Barr, chair of the FE committee.

And FE conference chair Andrew Murray said: "The success of the strike will have done a great deal to strengthen NATFHE's position in the colleges."

Sue Thomas of the West Midlands region wanted the strikes to start in June, to build quickly on the success of May 22, and to influence negotiations due to take place on June 26.

"It would be better to keep the impetus for strike action now, so that we are greeting a new education secretary and saying: the first thing you are going to have to do is resolve the scandal of FE lecturers' pay."

John Baxter of the north-west region said: "I was surprised by the level of support on May 22. Departments which did not even have union members six months ago came out on strike. Ther was a real feeling that at last we were doing something."

Wales's Andrew Price said: "This will show we are not prepared this year to see the AoC undermining our collective bargaining."

But John Bryan for the National Executive Committee said: "Strike action must have an impact on our core activity, which is teaching, and there is little teaching in June. It is recognised as a down time and holding a strike then will have minimal impact on colleges."

And John Ecclestone of the East Anglia region said: "The work in June is mainly things like staff development and administration."

Gina Nicholson of inner London said: "We had lots of new members on May 22 but that strike was planned carefully and tactically. You cannot repeat it every month."

Roger Smith of Yorkshire and Humberside region thought the strike should start at the beginning of the term. "We can organise the practicalities of the strike this term and be ready to strike at the start of next term," he said.

But the executive's Alan Coupe pointed out that this would hit student enrolment. "Many members will feel that they have to enrol students to keep their jobs," he said.

A few members were worried about deciding straight away on strike action. "Our employers rubbed their hands and said, great, we'll spend the money we saved on May 22 on our priorities," said David Owen of Northern region. His proposal was for "action short of a strike" and a review at the end of September.

But this, like all the other alternative strategies proposed, was defeated, and the conference unanimously agreed the programme leading to two days of strike action in October.

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