Looking back at the recent high-profile dispute

After more than three months of strike days spanning May until November last year, we have won our dispute! There are now no compulsory redundancies for lecturers at the college.

As the biggest college in Scotland this is a win not just for us but for the whole sector. In the final deal, members who had been made redundant and wanted to return have been taken back on the payroll. This is an unprecedented outcome.

On 3rd May last year City of Glasgow College unions were informed that college management would be making up to 100 colleagues compulsorily redundant on 18th June. This was on top of around 75 colleagues who were taking voluntary redundancy. The college claimed that they had to save £6million in addition to the £6m in savings made earlier in the academic year, when college management unilaterally imposed changes to lecturers’ working conditions which resulted in reduced contact time with students, an increase in classes on lecturers’ timetables, loss of bank and temporary staff and cuts to learning support provision.

EIS-FELA branch officials were notified of the compulsory redundancies with only 45 days’ statutory consultation, thereafter there would be up to 100 P45s in the post. The union branch officials repeatedly asked for a 90-day consultation period in line with the Scottish Government’s fair work policy, which was consistently refused.

Throughout May, the likelihood of strike action could have been avoided if it hadn’t been for the intransigent stance of the Principal and the Executive Leadership Team.

As colleges are part of the public sector and given that the Scottish Government have a no compulsory redundancy policy in the public sector, we saw this as a a trojan horse for the 25 other colleges in the sector.

Throughout May, the likelihood of strike action could have been avoided if it hadn’t been for the intransigent stance of the Principal and the Executive Leadership Team. Union attempts at negotiation and resolution failed, including offers of alternative cost-savings, with management refusing or delaying to meet with union reps to discuss. The Board of Management rejected alternative proposals to achieve financial savings but the board opted to make savings though lecturers’ jobs. Any union branch worth its salt had only one alternative: to ballot for industrial action.

Within weeks we had turned around a ballot on industrial action, due not only to the threat of compulsory redundancies but also due to the toxic nature of the workplace. 81% of members voted for strike action and 95% for ASOS on a 59% turnout. By the 30th of May we were on the picket line. We took action for four days a week running until the end of term.

Colleagues facing redundancy had been put into redundancy pools, or their role was earmarked for removal. They were then scored by managers who had no expertise in this area, it was a totally flawed and botched process which was shaping up to land a huge number of cases for unfair dismissal on the desks of college lawyers.

In one pool the scoring was being done by someone whose husband was in the pool. In another pool a colleague was marked down for not completing training when she was on maternity leave after having triplets!

This strike resulted from a failure of senior management to balance the books. Those charged with running the college and delivering a public service while receiving handsome remuneration had failed their staff and the students. Members of the Executive Leadership Team and Senior Management Team receive a total of £1,430,000 a year.

Early on in the dispute the union proposed that there were alternatives to these compulsory redundancies and questioned the college’s spending priorities on large numbers of senior management salaries, external lobbying firms, subsidiary private companies and international work. Our savings options were rejected by both the Principal and the college board.

We were constantly being told particularly via the Principal’s weekly briefings circulated to staff that if we took strike action our courses would be cut and we would face further job cuts. This did have an impact on some members who feared for their continued job safety but the majority held firm.

Picket lines are the most visible aspect of a strike. They are crucial, as they keep spirits up, and crucially strikers share information about the workplace issues. Lots of chat about life and the universe plus plenty of laughter takes place on picket lines, and they provide a great sense of strength and support, especially in long disputes. Tea, coffee and breakfast snacks are a must for all those early starts.

We understood this and set up a strike committee to continually build for the picket and to get the word out there on social media. Disco on the picket, bingo, game show quizzes, poetry competitions, hair-cuts, drama performances, home baking, care and share days, dressing up to satirise management, picnics on the grass, song writing, party on the picket – we did it all, rain hail or shine.

Of course, the most important role of a picket is solidarity. Showing each other solidarity, and solidarity from the rest of the trade union movement, in our case we also had solidarity from our students and from students further afield in colleges and universities.

Overall around 120 people spoke on our picket line bringing solidarity and keeping our spirits up. The list is long, including 8 MPs and MSPs, several Glasgow City Councillors, Andrea Bradley EIS General Secretary, Roz Foyer STUC General Secretary, union representatives from other colleges, trade union speakers from across the union movement, our students and a few international speakers. We owe so many people our heartfelt thanks and gratitude for their support, not least our families and friends. It’s not easy to take strike action for the duration of our dispute and the continued levels of support kept us going.

Glasgow City Council Unison branch hosted our strategy and strike committee meetings as well as student teach-ins, and several Unison and Unite branches made large donations to our strike fund. A special mention goes to the EIS Glasgow local association who within days were on the phone to donate and to offer ways in which they could show solidarity, for example by raising the issue with the Executive Head of Education at Glasgow City Council, encouraging schools not to send pupils to the college during the strike. A heartfelt thanks to all of you.

In the middle of our dispute the mandate for industrial action expired, we were forced by the anti-trade union laws to re-ballot, this took time and we had to return to work for a few weeks. We won a further mandate for industrial action, 87% for ASOS and 80% for continued strike action, new strike dates were set.

The pressure on strikers intensified, courses were removed from strikers’ timetables and given to other non-striking members of their department, they were told that they would now lose those courses, other colleges were asked to teach strikers courses, our colleagues in these colleges responded with a resounding “no chance’, that is solidarity writ large.

The strategy for a dispute like this is not only about strike action it involves a wide range of actions. City of Glasgow College receives almost £100million a year in public money. We were asking ‘who is holding our senior management to account on how they use that money’?

Our campaign was targeted at MSPs and the Scottish Parliament, questions asked at First Minister’s Questions, motions in parliament, lobbies of parliament, meeting the Minister, having information sessions with MSPs, the leaders of the EIS raising it with the First Minister. We also challenged the Scottish Funding Council, Glasgow Colleges Regional Board and the City of Glasgow College Board. All of their members are publicly appointed and are publicly accountable. There are huge issues over college boards and their effective governance, but this is for another day.

There are many lessons from our strike. No-one will be made compulsory redundant, although some of our colleagues have been treated so badly throughout this whole process that they do not want to stay. The union has negotiated a voluntary severance package which has significantly increased the financial settlement on offer for most colleagues, should they wish to take it.

Colleagues who had been served their notices were given the opportunity to return to a role in the college or take an enhanced severance package. We have also won the establishment of a working group to develop fair work policies, (previously non-existent) involving our trade branch officials, management and the STUC as third-party advisors. Management has agreed to engage in a process of reviewing college policies, procedures and practices to show demonstrable evidence of fair work.