Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/528/3984
NUT strike 24 April
No more pay cuts!
National Union of Teachers (NUT) members across England and Wales will be joining the first national teachers' strike for twenty years on 24 April. This will be an important date for many public-sector workers, with some sections of civil service union PCS members likely to be on strike on that day, as well as further education lecturers.
Martin Powell-Davies, convenor Socialist Party Teachers
Following a national ballot showing a 3:1 majority, action was unanimously agreed to by the NUT national executive. The strike, to oppose the government's attempts to hold down teachers' pay below inflation for year after year, has been threatened for months. With New Labour refusing to shift, and pressure building from below, all sides of the national leadership recognised that it had to go ahead.
In an unexpected turn of events, just days after announcing the strike, news came of the sudden death of the NUT's general secretary, Steve Sinnott.
Socialist Party Teachers may have often had our differences with Steve, but, to his credit, he will now be remembered as a general secretary that called a national strike. The immediate reaction across the union has been to make sure that we mark his passing by ensuring that the action on 24 April is as solid as possible.
News of the strike had already been enthusiastically greeted by local NUT officers and school reps that have been long campaigning to persuade colleagues to vote for action. Many headteachers have informed parents that their school will be closing on the day.
Whether it's paying for a tank of petrol, the weekly shopping or the mortgage, teachers know, like everyone else, that Gordon Brown's claims that inflation is running at 2% are simply dishonest. For new teachers being asked to pay back their student loans at an inflation-linked rate of 4.8%, the double-dealing is obvious!
Even the Financial Times has conceded that the idea that public-sector wage rises cause inflation is ridiculous. Showing a greater understanding of the anger building below, the FT is warning Brown that his "collision course" with the unions could prove damaging for the government.
Teachers' increasing financial pressures have certainly helped harden the mood for action. But they also mean that some NUT members will inevitably question whether they can afford to lose a day's pay. Local Associations and schools should collect towards hardship funds to make sure colleagues can be supported.
At the same time, we have to make clear that this is a serious fight that we intend to win, not just a one-off protest. The policy agreed at the Easter NUT conference, for a further ballot for discontinuous action, linking our grievances over both pay and workload, needs to be publicised too.
With most teachers having no experience of strike action, there are inevitably some doubts to be answered, particularly about how parents may react to the strike. Of course the strike will disrupt many families' childcare arrangements for the day - but that's why teachers' action can have such a big impact!
We have to leaflet parents to explain that this strike is about defending education as well as teachers' pay. Official figures show that 50% of new teachers have left within the first three years of teaching. Letters to schools from local parents and trade unionists can be a real help in boosting confidence to join the action.
A minority of bullying managers are trying to find ways to undermine the strike. Members of other school unions must make absolutely clear that they will not take on any work that would usually be carried out by NUT staff. They must also demand of their leaders that, next time, we are all taking united action against the pay freeze together!
Managers and ministers should not fool themselves that the 32% turnout in a postal ballot means that most NUT members will come into work. A similar turnout for city-wide strike ballot in 2002 over London Allowances saw most of the capital's schools closed and thousands of young teachers on the march.
24 April will see this repeated on a national scale. Rallies and demonstrations are being planned in many towns and cities. From this experience, a new generation of teachers will recognise that by taking action together, we can start to stand up for ourselves at last.
- UCU members in further education in colleges are balloting for action on pay. The ballot closes on 14 April and any strike is likely to take place on 24 April.
- PCS members in the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Transport, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and possibly other departments are also considering striking on that day.
- It is also possible that Birmingham City council workers will be on strike on 24 April, in a dispute over the implementation of the single status agreement.
In The Socialist 8 April 2008:
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party workplace news
Post Office closures
International socialist news and analysis