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Overwhelming support for teachers' strike
October 17 - Determined, angry and striking back against Gove's attacks
Martin Powell Davies, a member of the NUT executive wrote:
Right across London, the South of England and in the North-East, tens of thousands of striking teachers took to the streets on 17 October to show their determination to stand up for education and to strike back against Gove's attacks on pay, pensions and conditions.
The size of the turnout answered anyone who might have thought that the mood of teachers was weakening. On the contrary, the atmosphere at the demonstrations showed that the mood is hardening.
2,000 marched in Brighton and Durham, 3,000 in Bristol, anything up to 15,000 in London, where the march thronged down Whitehall and past the Department for Education.
There were also other vibrant local rallies in towns like Plymouth and Canterbury too. The age of many of the marchers was also significant - many young teachers were to the fore, determined to march for their futures, and for the future of education.
As I wrote in a campaign leaflet that was handed out to teachers at all the day's rallies:
"Further hesitation would invite further attacks.
"Gove needs to know that we aren't stepping back. The strong support for the regional strike action shows that teachers are determined to defend their pay, pensions, conditions - and children's education.
"Teachers would prefer to be teaching, not striking. However, our campaign is part of a wider struggle to defend genuinely free, comprehensive education.
"We have a responsibility to teachers, and to the children we teach, to make sure that Gove retreats".
Gove CAN be beaten back - as long as we hold our nerve and step up our action. That's why I am campaigning for the following strategy:
- Work to get every school out on a united one-day national strike in November
- Call on other unions - like firefighters, postal workers, civil servants - to strike alongside us
- Build united NUT/NASUWT school committees to keep up the pressure for joint action
- Sharpen up our communications - make sure that every colleague, every parent, understands why teachers are taking action to defend education
- Campaign in our communities to broaden the support for our fight against Gove's attacks
- Collect for hardship funds so that no colleague feels unable to join our strike action
- Continue our action next term; if Gove won't step back, then we should step up to a two-day strike
For a video of the London march and rally, see my youtube channel via: http://youtu.be/ZZH3Bqk52Bk
Martin Powell-Davies posted on his blog a refutation of any allegations of lack of support for the action, using his borough Lewisham as an example. He said:
"Undoubtedly, Michael Gove or one of his DfE spin-doctors will try and tell the media tomorrow that teachers aren't supporting the NUT/NASUWT strike action. Well here are the facts from my borough, Lewisham - and I am sure that other boroughs will be able to tell a similar story:
- SCHOOL OPEN 8%
- PARTLY CLOSED (some classes out) 17%
- SCHOOL MAINLY CLOSED (e.g just Year 6 or Year 11) 31%
- SCHOOL CLOSED 44%
This is not to exaggerate support, but to present an objective picture - a picture which shows the overwhelming support for the strike across the borough.
All but a handful of small schools are affected by the action, three-quarters are either totally or largely closed because of the solid support from NUT and NASUWT members."
Teachers across the south rallied in their hundreds as the majority of schools closed across the region.
There were large rallies in Oxford, Portsmouth, Worthing and Southampton. The mood was defiant and determined, many young teachers out on strike for the first time.
The universal hatred of Gove (the new four letter word) is testimony to the 1% his views represent.
In Southampton there was strong support for the call for a national strike not only of all teachers but coordinated with other unions.
This was best summed up when local head teacher, NUT and Socialist Party member Liz Filer received the loudest applause of the day for her call: "We should be out with the postal workers.
"We should be out on that day. We should have a general strike on that day of all public sector workers".
Her call featured on the front page of the local paper the following day. Not all were onside however, a noteable critic was local Labour MP and close adviser to Ed Miliband, John Denham.
His words have shocked many activists and will remind many why the time for unions to disaffiliate from Labour is long overdue.
Oxford Socialist Party members and supporters took part in the demo and rally in Oxford's Bonn Square with well over 600 teachers, students and parents.
All were calling for an end to the Tory cuts in education, putting a stop to Tory pension plans and also calling for Gove to go.
Whilst the demo was good natured there was a definite sense of anger at what is happening to our education system.
This ranged from academies to pensions and also the constant changes to the exam system brought in by someone who has never worked in a school!
The rally itself had a good cross section of local speakers including councillors, local parents and teachers. A message of solidarity was given from a Unison health worker who pointed out all workers are being faced with the same type of cuts and the firefighters are also stepping up their action, but the only way to stop all these attacks on working people is by calling on the TUC to name the day for a 24-hour strike. This demand was met with cheers and agreement from the crowd.
This shows that the demand for such action has an echo amongst large sections of working people.
In Durham at least 2,000 striking teachers marched to the Rally for Education. Overheard on the march were a group of teachers from Middlesbrough, which has just had news of further devastating cuts in council services, discussing the absolute necessity of unions coming together for a general strike.
So many turned up for the rally that even the overflow meeting overflowed!
Thursday's strike (17th October) by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) was the third in a series of joint regional strikes in England held by the two unions who together represent 90% of teachers.
This time schools in the London, North East, South East and South West regions were affected.
The list of grievances against education secretary, Michael Gove and the Con-Dem government is long and includes:
- The removal of local democratic control of education and preparation for privatisation through the academy and free school programmes
- Attacks on teachers' conditions and pay through the public sector pay freeze
- Plans to make teachers pay more for, work longer for and get less in pensions
- Proposals for further increased workloads, performance-related pay and an end to national pay bargaining.
Gove, who is a universally loathed by the entire profession, is refusing to negotiate and so reluctantly teachers have been left with no alternative but to take industrial action.
In Bristol, a south-west regional march and rally was attended by 3,000 - 4,000 teachers and their supporters.
The event was particularly well attended by young teachers who have the most to lose from the changes being forced through by the Con-Dems. Figures released recently show that 50% of young teachers quit within five years of qualifying and it is great that the unions are now offering an alternative of fighting back against Gove.
Socialist Party supporters and local NUT activists took the opportunity to hand out 1,000 leaflets in support of Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies who is currently standing for NUT vice-president.
Teachers seemed very receptive to Martin's message that "Gove's attacks will make our jobs impossible. So we have to step up our action to stop them".
Nearly 40 local NUT associations have nominated Martin for the position.
Bristol's city centre was brought to a halt as the thousands of angry and vocal teachers set off on the march from College Green to the Bristol Hotel on the harbour side.
Onlookers applauded and beeped their car horns in support, reflecting a generally positive view of the action by parents who know that the teachers are fighting for their children's education, despite the inconvenience of a school strike.
This was also reflected in the inability of TV reporters to find parents who would condemn the action - despite their efforts to present both sides of the case.
End of march rallies
The rally had been booked for a room with 500 seats but it was clear that there would be thousands left outside so an impromptu overflow rally was held in the nearby Queen Square. Speakers repeated their speeches through a loud hailer for those unable to fit into the venue.
Speakers included Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT; Patrick Roach, deputy general secretary of the NASUWT; Richard Capps, Chair of the South-West Trades Union Congress (TUC); as well as two young teachers. The rally was chaired by NUT president, Beth Davies.
The speeches were enthusiastically received by those at the rally as the speakers described the litany of disasters rained down on our public education system by the crazy, ignorant and ideologically driven minister, Gove.
We heard of pupils being permanently excluded from academies but no longer having services available to help them as local education authorities are closed down; we heard of plans for tens of thousands of individual pay negotiations and teachers being forced to compete against each other for pay rather than working together to improve education; and we heard about 'sponsored' academies and how the private sector is trying to force its way into education so it can skim public money for shareholders by driving down the cost and therefore the quality.
This was the biggest trade union demonstration in Bristol since 30th November 2011 when 20,000 public sector workers marched through the city while two million struck together nationally across education, the NHS, the civil service and local government.
Sometimes the intervening two years have been frustrating as the Con-Dem attacks on ordinary people have mounted up while trade union leaders have discussed the possibility of coordinated action or a general strike but haven't actually called it.
Now though, with teachers threatening a national strike this term and firefighters, higher education staff, postal workers and probation officers all voting for industrial action, surely the time has come for coordinated action to stop this government of millionaires once and for all.
Matt Carey, Bristol Socialist Party
In a one horse town called Totnes in Devon, two teachers organised a rally on Wednesday 16th. Attended by local teachers, students and parents, the rally was well covered by South West newspapers and TV.
The NUT fully supported us, paying for the hire of the venue and providing a great speaker. I was able to announce that the main school(Kevics) and the local primary my own son attends were closed due to strike action.
The next morning I joined a picket outside Kevics where we received a great welcome from cars and lorries passing by including a local fire engine driver who gave us a big thumbs up.
Radio 5 Live contacted the local NUT rep while we were there to conduct a national radio interview.
Later in the morning at a regional rally in Plymouth our small meeting in Totnes was held up as an example to follow.
The Plymouth rally held by Plymouth NUT was attended by about 250 teachers and was brilliantly conducted with the platform given over to ordinary teachers and activists who included Chris Webb representing Post Office workers fighting against privatisation. Chris got a standing ovation.
The case for a 24-hour general strike did not need to be argued for as it was on everyone's lips. The NUT executive member present appealed for support from the rally to put this to the next meeting of the executive and got another ovation.
Socialist Party members selling the Socialist were welcomed. We handed out leaflets for TUSC (standing 19 candidates in May 2014 in Plymouth)and for Martin Powell-Davies' NUT election campaign too. We were told that Plymouth NUT have already nominated Martin.
Alex Moore, Totnes
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 18 October 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.