Unions must call national action
Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
Teachers and support staff at Valentine Primary School, members of the National Education Union (NEU), are celebrating an important victory following strike action. Union members reached an agreement with Southampton’s Labour-run city council for a two-year freeze on cuts.
A united campaign of school staff, the NEU, the head teacher, the senior leadership team, governors and parents, stood solidly together over months of organising. We fought to ensure the damaging cutbacks were not inflicted through staff cuts – with the inevitable knock-on effect on those remaining in their jobs and their ability to meet the needs of the children.
A city-wide campaign under the banner of Southampton Fair Funding for All Schools, in which local Socialist Party members have played a leading role, has organised rallies, demonstrations, public meetings, council lobbies, petitioning, and school-gate leafleting across Southampton. The NEU strike action at Valentine has put school funding on the top of the council agenda.
Schools are at a breaking point, and the fight shown at Valentine Primary must be repeated across the country.
The schools funding crisis has not gone away. The Tory government’s brutal austerity measures bear down on schools. Nationally, pupil funding has been slashed by 8%.
In Southampton, 64 out of 64 schools have had their budgets cut! The impact means one school in Southampton is sacking its entire team of teaching assistants.
Southampton’s pupil referral centre, which supports excluded children, is cutting its places. This will undermine support to some of our most vulnerable children and add extra pressures back into mainstream schools.
As wider council services are cut, like social services, youth services and child and adolescent mental health services, underfunded schools are being left to pick up the pieces as the damaging impact of austerity and growing child poverty hits working-class communities hard.
The NEU has welcomed the decision of Southampton Council to use its powers to avert cuts. This approach should be extended to all schools in in the city. A further 13 are in deficit with those remaining running out of reserves and making cuts. The situation is only getting worse.
But this victory does show that school cuts can be fought. It shows that local councils, when pushed, can protect school budgets. Moreover, if linked to a wider campaign bringing together teaching unions, parents and local councils, backed up with national strike action, the potential exists for a decisive victory – to restore school funding – against this divided and hated lame Tory government. Such a fight could draw in support to oppose all council cuts.
It is shameful that Southampton’s right-wing, Blairite Labour council, instead of leading this fight, has been demanding that schools carry out cuts. This goes alongside closing care homes and cutting Sure Start and social care budgets.
That is why Socialist Party members are standing four candidates in the local elections on 2 May. Our candidates give full support to the NEU, the strike action at Valentine and the fair funding campaign. We are putting forward a socialist alternative to cuts, campaigning to elect fighting councillors who will refuse to vote for cuts and lead a fight against school funding reductions and all council cuts.
If Jeremy Corbyn was to call on Labour councillors to join the fight to stop council cuts the support would be enormous. He should be calling on councils to use reserves and borrowing to protect jobs and services, committing an incoming Labour government to reimburse any local authority which took such steps.
Such a campaign could decisively undermine Tory austerity and open the way to an early general election to sweep the Tories out of office.