Reports and Campaigns
Reports and campaigns:
5 July 2016
Teachers' strike: Angry and defiant
Socialist Party teachers
Enough is enough: that was the message from National Union of Teachers (NUT) members in the recent strike ballot, with an emphatic 91.7% Yes vote. Today's strike represents a backlash against continued attacks on teachers and education as a whole. Workload, micro management and performance related pay are forcing record numbers out of the profession and fuelling a teacher shortage crisis. The bruising testing regime in all key stages has led to extreme stress and anxiety amongst students. But the tide can be turned.
The Tories are in complete disarray after the EU referendum but were a weak government already; Nicky Morgan has u-turned on baseline testing and zig-zagged on forcing all schools to become academies. And now, post referendum, Policy Exchange, the Tories' favourite think-thank, predicts the White Paper is 'a goner'. We need to make that happen and get back onto the front foot.
We know that if we are to beat the Tories, one strike day will not be enough. It is imperative that NUT members and the government know that we're fighting to win this time. That means we must go into the summer holidays with more dates for strike action announced for the autumn term, as agreed by NUT conference. This will give confidence to Unison and GMB members to turn their conferences' decisions to take industrial action into a reality.
The NUT should convene a meeting between the leaderships of all the education unions, to discuss how to link up the disputes in the autumn term. This should be organised as a matter of urgency. A joint negotiating strategy could be developed to ensure that all education workers can get behind a programme of action. The call should go out for members' meetings at local and workplace level between the unions to prepare for coordinated action.
Build in communities and among students
The scale of cuts to education proposed by this government is unprecedented. Schools across the country, especially in the cities, face massive cuts. Some London secondary schools are reporting cuts of up to £2-3 million in the next few years and that will damage students' education. That means we must build campaigns in the communities to fight these cuts. These campaigns would also be able to take up the issue of testing, particularly SATs, and lay the ground for a boycott next year. Parents, students and education workers have the potential to create a mighty social movement in defence of education with industrial action at its core.
Reports from the strike
Leicester teachers were emotional, angry and defiant. Emotional because teachers know that children are being hurt by the cuts and you can't do your job properly because of the work load. Angry because speakers explained how money was going; and defiant because they can't take any more.
The NUT was supported by the UCU lecturers' union who chose to strike on same day. Unison and bakers' union members also joined the march, and the Trades Council.
There was great applause when Tony Church, secretary of Leicester and District trade union council, called for all unions to unite and strike together. The biggest cheer of the rally was when Tony defended Jeremy Corbyn against Labour's right wing .
A pupil at Connaught school in Leytonstone, east London pointed at the badge in support of the strike and said "well done". NUT members here were part of the national action today; there is also an ongoing local strike at the school against increased workload.
I visited the picket to support the strikers, and I took along a Socialist Party petition to build support for the calling of a labour movement conference in defence of Jeremy Corbyn.
Holy Family school
The Socialist Party brought support and solidarity to teachers striking at Holy Family Catholic School in Walthamstow, east London and was warmly received, including with offers of biscuits and balloon games! New NUT rep Sara spoke to the Socialist from the picket line. She said:
"We're striking because of the cuts to education and the threatened forced academisation which is pretty much still on the Tories' agenda. Other issues include class sizes, the marginalisation of arts subjects. I've got Teddy, my five year old, here with me and I worry about what it's going to be like for him in school."
She and Erich had recently taken on a job share for the rep's role and are rebuilding a strong trade union tradition at the school.
Significantly Unison members all took stickers and leaflets and were supportive. The Socialist Party calls for the next strike to be coordinated across all school workers to defend education.
The picket got supportive honks from cars and buses and fist pumps, cycle bells and whoops from passers' by. We all need a fightback!
All the teachers on the picket line wanted to see trade union action to defend Jeremy Corbyn and signed the call for trade union leaders to initiate a labour movement conference to build active defence.
NUT strikers in Southampton, 5.7.16, photos by Nick Chaffey
Southampton NUT organised an energetic rally addressed by new and experienced activists. The biggest round of applause came in response to a Socialist Party teacher's call for coordination with all education unions and an escalation of action in the autumn term.
The Southampton rally laid the foundations for this with a delegation from Unison representing school support staff and UCU on strike at both of the city's universities.
Comments recorded by James Kerr:
- A Brent NUT rep: "For the first time in years our school was fully closed with 65+ teachers taking action. It shows the strength of feeling; teachers have had enough. The chant 'teachers and doctors unite and strike' rang out after the news arrived that the junior doctors have rejected the government's latest proposed contract. We need to coordinate the strikes and get this government out".
- Brent MFL teacher: "I've had enough of Tory cuts, I've had enough of them jeopardising our kids' future, I've had enough of them cutting our school's budget by 14% and then saying we're harming education by going out on strike for a day".
- Supply teacher: "I'm annoyed about the state of everything. Workload and standardised testing has taken all the fun and creativity out of everything. It feels like the whole profession is being squeezed".
Striking teachers from around West Yorkshire gathered in central Leeds today to protest against the Tory's draconian education reforms. Faced with real term budget cuts of 9-14% over the next three years, the destruction of national terms and conditions, and forced academisation, those present were in a militant mood.
Around 500-600 people gathered in Victoria gardens including teachers, lecturers, support staff, parents and students. The demonstration marched through central Leeds to a rally point and heard from a variety of speakers.
Highlights included an impassioned defence of creative subjects in schools, solidarity from the UCU, and a classroom teacher declaring: "We are teachers, trade unionists, and we simply must win this". The last speaker, one of the region's NUT NEC members, confirmed that future action was being planned, but there were no specific points made about strategy going forward.
The NUT nationally must come up with a clear timeline of escalating strike action, coordinated with other unions including the junior doctors who today rejected the government's contract offer, with a view to defeating the already weakened Tory government.
A Socialist Party initiated petition calling for the labour movement to organise a conference in defence of Jeremy Corbyn gathered over 100 signatures in an hour - an important sign of the mood on a day when Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, is meeting with union leaders to try to persuade them to withdraw their thus far solid backing for Corbyn.
James Ellis, Leeds Socialist Party and NUT striker
Hundreds of striking teachers converged in Durham for a march to the city's centre and a rally. This is a young workforce who feel they have no option but to take on a government attacking both themselves and children who are being “tested to death”. Teachers at the rally spoke of their love of teaching, but also how they constantly felt “knackered” at the long hours they work.
One art teacher from Gateshead talked about the impact of cuts in art and drama within the school curriculum. She also spoke about the growing number of kids coming to school without breakfast and those facing problems such as depression and self-harm. For them, art and drama classes can be a “safe haven” where they have a chance of flowering - but Tories are denying children this opportunity.
One parent commented that Tory education minister Nicky Morgan accuses teachers of jeopardising children's education, when the reality is that Morgan's department of education is playing “political ping pong” with children's education.
Teachers expressed solidarity with Durham's teaching assistants who are facing being sacked by Durham's Labour controlled county council, then being reinstated on worse terms and conditions.
This article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 5 July 2016 and varies from the version printed in the Socialist.