This week, Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, ruled out any Government-led national pay bargaining that would give a similar deal to hourly-paid staff - on which many colleges depend for flexibility.
Hardly surprising, then, that he faced a hostile reception when he addressed the final conference of Natfhe, the college lecturers' union.
However, the union needs to ask some searching questions about its own strategy when it comes to pay negotiations. What is the one big success of Natfhe in recent years? In the words of delegates at its own conference, it is "survival". College incorporation in 1993 was meant to signal the demise of the unions. Instead, Natfhe grew from being a dysfunctional ragbag into an organisation with influence, particularly under the leadership of Paul Mackney. To what avail, however, if the one thing it cannot remedy is the 10 per cent pay gap with schools?
Merger with HE to form a single 120,000-strong University and College Union should bring more clout. But, as Graham Fowler argues opposite, this is happening just when the universities are themselves looking to pull away from national settlements. Besides, there is little chance of university teachers going to the barricades in support of their college colleagues.
Bigger may mean better resources but it is unlikely to mean more solidarity across the university-college divide.
Nor can Natfhe blame the Association of Colleges for lack of support.
Headteachers never gave schoolteachers significant support in their pay struggles. Market forces were the driver behind better pay. When the Government decided it wanted to reform school education it had to pay for the changes. The Tories achieved the changes they wanted in colleges through brute force more than a decade ago. When Labour came to power, significantly more cash was pumped into the colleges for student growth - but not for pay.
So, as college lecturers face the bright new dawn of a single FHE union, they still need to answer one question. If the Government cannot be persuaded, what is the alternative?, Boycott the 14 to 19 reforms and go for an old-fashioned all-out strike?
But the Government also needs to understand that it has failed colleges, with so many broken promises over pay.