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26 March 2014
NUT - striking to defend education
Since he took office, Michael Gove, backed all the way by the coalition government, has been on a mission to drive down the pay, working conditions and professional dignity of the teaching profession. Today's strike by NUT members has come not a moment too soon in responding to him. In doing so, teachers are defending education too.
Southampton, NUT strike 26.3.14, photo N Chaffey
Hundreds of teachers from across the city and beyond gathered for a strike rally to show their determination to defeat the hated Gove and his proposals to attack teachers and comprehensive state education.
One especially miserable protester was the science room skeleton who had dressed up for the occasion and was carrying the placard: "I can't work to 68".
Many there were young teachers, some were there in large numbers from strongly NUT-organised schools, others were the defiant individuals where support was not so strong for the strike but who were determined to fight back.
There were excellent speeches at the rally, which included a young student, Miles, from Itchen College speaking in solidarity with his striking teachers.
Solidarity support came from Southampton Trades Council and community activists. Liz Filer, local head teacher, NUT activist and Socialist Party member got a great response to her attack on Gove, his political meddling in education and a defence of teachers' right to teach: "Parents support our strike because they want the best for their children, that means qualified teachers in the classroom, well paid, motivated and allowed to get on with their job".
She also lambasted the extension of testing to fail yet more children. Liz took the NUT message onto local radio and did a live interview on the BBC local lunchtime news.
Other speakers included rebel councillor Keith Morrell who highlighted the recent tube strike as another example that people are willing to fight back against austerity and the need for a united campaign of industrial action to stop the cuts.
He linked this to the situation on the council in Southampton: "We face a locomotive coming down the track to destroy services in the city, and we have to step up to the task of defending the city. If Labour were to do as we have, they would get enormous support for such a stand. That's the response we have had from our local community to our refusal to vote for cuts".
Many at the rally signed a petition in support of Keith and other TUSC anti-cuts candidates standing in the May council elections.
This determined mood has to be directed into a developing campaign, which was raised by speakers at the rally calling for further strike action, and pressure to be put on NASUWT to join the strikes.
The final speaker was Mike King from Southampton Socialist Party who gave a message of solidarity and got great cheers and applause for his call to "drive out Gove and the Con-Dem government!"
The NUT strike in Liverpool closed 90% of schools completely or partially. Radio Merseyside estimated that 2,000 people marched from the Pier Head to George's Hall.
The march almost matched the size of the joint march of NASUWT and NUT last year. NUT members turned out in greater numbers than ever.
The rally's atmosphere was electric. Apart from NUT members there were speakers from the PCS, UCU, Unison and the TUC.
However the loudest cheers were reserved for Tony Mulhearn who spoke from Liverpool against the Cuts and TUSC. Tony pointed out that none of the main parties supported the struggle of the teachers and only TUSC was foursquare behind our fight over pensions, pay and conditions.
Dave Walsh, a Socialist Party member in Unite, reinforced the need for a fighting socialist alternative and called for all unions to get behind the teachers for a one-day general strike.
The angry mood of the meeting was clearly for an escalation of action to two days and if Gove doesn't move then we need to escalate to three days.
Surveys show that teachers in many cases are working 60, 70, and even 80 hours a week. The European Working Time Directive instructs employers that anything over 48 hours is illegal. So teachers are striking just to keep employers within the law. And that's why this is one strike that isn't going to go away.
Over 1,000 striking teachers took to the streets of Bristol to demonstrate their resolve to defend education and their profession.
Speaking to the rally, Socialist Party and NUT member Sheila Caffrey explained how Tory education secretary Michael Gove is sucking the life out of teaching. With attacks on terms and conditions, changes to the curriculum and working weeks averaging nearly 60 hours it's no wonder almost half of new teachers quit within the first five years.
She and other speakers said that if Gove wouldn't budge, the strike would need to be escalated and linked up with other workers to force the government back.
The support from the crowd showed enormous resolve to fight for teachers and pupils alike.
Around 120 striking teachers marched through the city centre in Bradford. Cries rang out from the marchers of 'Gove must go' and 'Defend education' echoing the anger of NUT members at the ongoing attacks.
One teacher told me: "We can't not strike. Our pay is being squeezed whilst our workload continues to increase. We're not just striking for ourselves but for the future of our profession".
Walthamstow: Teachers rallied locally before setting off for the London demo. Socialist Party and NUT member Linda Taaffe called for an escalation in the action, similar to that recently taken by The RMT, arguing that there is widespread anger against this government. She received a round of applause. The Socialist was sold and TUSC leaflets given out.
For a recent article by Socialist Party member Martin Powell Davies, a member of the NUT national executive, see:
Despite only the NUT being out, the Nottingham rally almost matched the (substantial) turnout of the autumn term strike, essentially blockading the inbound half of Mansfield road as we marched to the city centre, several hundred strong. Most didn't seem to expect a victory to come of this particular strike, but were steeled for further action, saying that now that they had started the fight they ought to finish it.
Several striking teachers voiced some frustration that NASUWT was not also out on strike, although some mentioned that this frustration was shared by several NASUWT members, disappointed that their leadership was being strung along by Gove.
An effective, fighting programme could allow the NUT to take the lead in this dispute, and a part of such a programme should be to persuade the rank and file of NASUWT to pressurise their leadership to rejoin the industrial action. Even if this course is not taken, NUT members are prepared for the next round of strike action, with or without the other teaching unions.
Leicester: Why we support the strike
I'm a retired teacher but I have been on the picket lines today because I see this government ruining our education system.
Academies have brought the profit motive into education. I have always supported nationalisation, but I never thought I would be calling for the nationalisation of our education system. Yet that is what we will have to do for large parts of it. Academy schools have been given to private industry for free: including buildings and playing fields. We want our schools back.
My son is training to be a teacher and is on placement in a school. In a science department of 13, the longest serving teacher has been there for just two years.
Two out of five leave teaching in their first five years of teaching. And no wonder when surveys show that teachers work on average 60 hour a week in primary schools and 56 hours a week in secondary education.
Around 500 teachers marched in Leicester to protest at the government's education policy. A Leicestershire teacher said she already works every night until midnight because she likes to give the children she teaches feedback:
"I cannot do anymore yet our head wants us to do more. I'm considering leaving teaching even though I love the students and I love teaching them. But I am faced with the choice of either preparing my lessons for individual needs or doing paper work that anyone can do. I don't have time to do both".
A senior management teacher at an academy said she was worried about the future for education. On top of working 56 hours a week to fulfill her role as a teacher she had to get her head around trading services, costing everything for value for money. This adds even more hours to her working day. "I would've gone to work in a bank if I wanted to do that sort of thing", she said.
Students on the demo said they were there because 'we plan to be teachers but this government is going back to Maggie Thatcher times'.
Some teachers felt isolated and worried about how parents would react to the strike. But parents are postal workers, health workers, firefighters, public sector workers and zero-hour contract workers.
If the TUC gave a lead and called for a 24-hour general strike then teachers would not feel isolated and parents would be on strike with the teachers. What a day that would be!
Heather Rawling, Leicester City NUT
Socialist Party teachers in the NUT call for:
- A calendar of national action - not just isolated strike days.
- A clear set of demands to inspire teachers to take ongoing action.
- Collections for hardship funds to help all colleagues to strike.
- Escalation from one to two-day action, warning Gove more could follow.
- A national work-to-rule to resist any attempt to worsen conditions.
- A public campaign to defend children's education with bold leaflets, parents' meetings, and a national demonstration to defend education.
- A campaign for united action - but we can't afford to wait when others won't act. Encourage NASUWT members to demand joint action.
- Coordinate joint strike action with other trade unions too.
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