Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/488/2435
Canteen workers oppose school meals cuts
ON 18 May, Waltham Forest school 'dinner ladies', kitchen staff, parents and teachers organised a leafleting of Jamie Oliver's restaurant in North London.
Nancy Taaffe (Waltham Forest UNISON campaigns co-ordinator) and Claire Buddle
We have been asking parents, teachers, school students and the media the question: "Could Jamie's School Dinners mean NO school dinners?" since we discovered that the Labour/Lib-Dem council plan to disband the school meals service from March 2008.
The council is passing the responsibility onto individual schools. This could mean that many schools cannot provide a hot school dinner. Private firms are circling. If they take over the contracts, it will mean worse food and higher prices as these vultures seek to make a profit.
The council's excuses for disbanding the service include the cost of equal pay for school meals staff and higher food standards initiated by Jamie Oliver in his 2005 TV series. These programmes, quite rightly, drew attention to the poor quality of food served in many schools, the link with childhood obesity and the physical and mental health problems associated with poor diet.
£220 million was promised nationally to improve school food, but it will cost about £486 million to implement. Waltham Forest schools must decide by July how they will deliver school meals when the council sheds its responsibility.
Many private firms complain that removing sweets and chocolate makes running a profitable business impossible. Companies such as Scolarest (which still sees education as an "area of opportunity"), Initial Catering, and Sodexho have pulled out of contracts, and are not bidding for new tenders, due to low profit margins.
The Socialist Party, UNISON and the NUT have been getting information out to schools and the media, and organising events, including a "pots and pans" demonstration and lobby of the council to oppose these plans.
We decided to visit Jamie Oliver's restaurant to ask him for support in the campaign. The general manager greeted us with refreshments and we handed out our leaflets and discussed with diners at the restaurant.
The local demo planned for 24 May will not, of course, be the end of the campaign. All council workers are under attack on every front. We need to use all weapons in our armoury to stop these attacks, including strike action and standing election candidates against career politicians.
School meals were introduced back in 1906 due to the persistence of socialists. Fred Jowett MP and Margaret McMillan were members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), that said its main objective was "to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange".
Jowett convinced parliament that hungry children could not learn and that the state must take responsibility for the nourishment of school children within compulsory education.
A midday meal 'suitable in all respects as the main meal of the day' was introduced by the 1944 Education Act. The school meals service was an essential weapon against poverty and malnutrition.
Thatcher's 1980 Education Act removed the requirement for standards in school meals. The principle of school meals as a public service, a school activity, and part of children's health and education was lost to the requirements of competition, profit and cost-cutting.
It was socialists who fought to establish school dinners. We don't intend to allow capitalism to take them away!
In The Socialist 24 May 2007:
Labour Party leadership
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history
Environment and socialism