Monday, 20 December 2010

Not a Merry Xmas - just more education cuts

The Con-Dems have confirmed that the number of places on degree courses in England will be cut by 10,000 by 2012.

They have also confirmed further cuts to the teaching grant to universities by 2012, leaving universities to balance the books through cuts, attacks on staff  pay and pensions and through increased tuition fees.

Meanwhile, the supposed ‘U-turn’ on school sports turns out to be, at best, a shoddy attempt to save face and pretend that they are backing the ‘Olympic Legacy’. As the NUT have said “The ‘further’ £65 million announced today will be spread over three financial years and falls far short of the £162 million annual ring-fenced funding needed to continue the School Sports Partnership at current levels”. Mind, the fact that even this extra funding was found is an indication that the Government feels under pressure from the growing anger against their education and public sector cuts.

Meanwhile, what are these cuts achieving? Inflation is up and growth down. It isn’t just the snow that is keeping people out of the shops as their living standards fall and jobs are lost.

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies tore apart Coalition arguments for cutting the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Their research pointed out that the costs of providing EMA would be outweighed by the higher wages - and taxes - that its recipients would go to enjoy in future. Of course, as they aren't thinking about building a decent future for all but just short-term profits for their financial friends - then this isn't going to interest the Con-Dems. No, it's the language of strikes and struggle that will make them listen.

Let’s have a good rest over Christmas and get ready for a renewed struggle in the New Year: January 15 is planned for local days of action against the cuts in the SE Region - and then the National Shop Stewards Network Conference on January 22nd in London will be a great way to discuss how we build a national campaign to defeat cuts and defend jobs, services and pensions  in 2011!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Building student and trade union unity

After Thursday's vote on the tuition fees - and the police attacks on kettled protestors - I visited the Student Assembly in London to participate in the discussions as to the next steps for the campaign against both fees and cuts to the EMA.

There were a whole range of issues being debated - including the democratic structures for the movement and the tactics when faced with police intimidation on demonstrations.

A campaigner from the 1990/1 poll tax campaign explained how a 'Labour Movement Enquiry' was held into the police actions at the end of the Trafalgar Square demonstration which exposed the real events of the day - and suggested something similar might be organised to investigate police actions on the student demonstrations.

I spoke to point out that the police may have hoped that their tactics would dissuade campaigners from coming on future demonstrations - but that they would fail. I proposed that students approach trade unions to call on them to participate and steward  in future demonstrations and, in particular, call on teachers and parents to attend jointly with students and school students. If, as was being discussed, a Saturday demonstration is called in February, then trade unions and schools should be able to mobilise in large numbers.

There was some discussion about simply building for the March 26th TUC demonstration - but I hope that students will agree that their campaign must maintain momentum and build for a further mass education demonstration before then.

Speakers from the National Shop Stewards Network also encouraged students to attend the NSSN anti-cuts Conference on January 22nd to build links with trade unionists.

What's clear is that the best student activists are looking to build links with trade unions. With the UCU now looking to ballot for strike action in late January, a complete education shutdown through joint  UCU/NUT action in March is a real possibility. It's another reason why the January meeting of the NUT Executive needs to vote for an early ballot for action. A delay, leaving the UCU, and perhaps the PCS, to take action alone, would be a mistake for the pensions campaign - and also miss a real opportunity to show students and school students that unions were following their lead with joint action across the education sector.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

PENSIONS - ballot timetable decisions deferred to January meeting of NUT Executive.

December’s meeting of the National Executive took another step towards the national action  that we will need to protect teachers' pensions.

The November NUT Executive had unanimously agreed that we should prepare a campaigning timetable building up to a ballot for strike action  in the spring term - with the aim of convincing the Government that they must think again about their plans to make us:
PAY MORE : We could be charged 3.5% more from our pay. That would be 10% of our monthly pay taken for pensions - on top of a 2-year pay freeze!
WORK LONGER: We might all be forced to work until 65 - or even older - to claim a full pension.
GET LESS: Changing the way pensions are index-linked for inflation and introducing ‘career-average’ schemes would both mean we get less in pensions.

After hearing teachers at meetings in Lewisham, Hackney and Wandsworth all give firm support for strike action on pensions, I was disappointed that some NUT Executive members did not feel that   we could yet set a firm timetable for strike action. Instead, we agreed to postpone final decisions  until January, leaving time for further discussions on the Executive - and  with other trade unions.

As I said at the meeting, I am happy to wait if it helps convince others - within and outside of the NUT - that teachers need to take strike action on pensions.  However, we would not be forgiven if  we delayed action until it was too late. We need   to show our strength BEFORE the Government has finalised its plans - and make them think again!

We all agreed to make the most of the time until January’s meeting. NUT Divisions should start by carrying out a ‘clean-up’ of their membership records ready for the ballot. Surveys and meetings will be arranged to test the mood of members and to publicise the campaign. Further meetings will be held to seek co-ordinated action with other unions.

Above all, we agreed that different options for   ballot timetables - leading to action starting either before or after Easter - would be discussed in   January. The ballot would be for ‘discontinuous’ action - not just for a single day’s strike - so that we can prepare for an ongoing campaign of action.

Stealing the Future from our Students

While we met for the Executive in Lincolnshire, it seems that enough Liberal MPs were prepared to break their election pledges to vote through the  tuition fee rises. Other Con-Dem cuts to the EMA and to School Sports Partnerships are all part of a shameful attack on the pupils we teach. Teachers, pupils & parents must continue to campaign together to oppose these cuts - and to expose the politicians who are voting for them.

Learning the Lessons of the Poll Tax - Let's organise and win!

Tonight's 'One Show' on the BBC included a film comparing today's student protests with protests from the past - specifically those against the Vietnam War and the Poll Tax.

I was pleased to be given a chance to explain a little about the anti poll tax movement. Of course they only used a couple of quotes from the many shots they took of me in Trafalgar Square - but I hope it got the message across from this "veteran protestor" (!!) about how, by being organised in every town and city against the courts and the bailiffs, the campaign succeeded in defeating Thatcher and the hated poll tax.

The film did, at least, give me the last word - to point out that, with the same organisation, this Government can be defeated as well!

Have a look on iplayer - after about 17 minutes:

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Save School Sports from cuts !

Several hundred school students and their teachers were out in Whitehall today to protest about the proposed cuts to the Schools Sports Partnership.

The SSP funding - costing only £162 million in total - helps finance school and student participation in sports programmes. Yet, while the Government pretends to be interested in the 'Olympic legacy', this funding is up for the chop. This hypocrisy has helped protesters to gather half a million signatures on their petition opposing the cuts in just a few weeks.

I was one of the NUT stewards at the lobby - but fellow stewards included a non-union PE teacher and a school police officer. However, all of us were there because of the deep anger against the effect of these cuts on young people. It was further proof that, while some people may at first go along with the argument at first that cuts are 'necessary' in general, once they see what specific cuts mean to their own lives, they can soon be out on the streets in protest.

A PE teacher from Barcelona came up to take a photograph telling me, 'Olympics good but school sports better!'.  Things really started to liven up when London school students got all the youth chanting and then cheering as the delegation went in with the petition through the gates of Downing Street.

A few days ago, David Cameron seemed to be hinting that the Government might be considering a U-turn on the cut - but other reports suggest that these hopes will be dashed.

If the campaign succeeds, it will be a fillip to other anti-cuts campaigns. If it doesn't, the refusal will only fuel the growing anger against the Con-Dem's damaging cuts. Certainly, as with the protests against BSF cuts earlier in the year, today's example of teachers bringing their school students to a stewarded protest could set a useful precedent for the future.

Friday, 3 December 2010


The NUT has issued two urgent circulars outlining how union members can help support the vital campaign to oppose the Government’s plans to cut EMA support (from £574million to perhaps as little as £75million) and to increase Tuition Fees to £9,000.

These attacks on the educational futures of our school students, particularly those from the poorest families, have angered youth, parents and school staff alike. They are, of course, also an attack on teachers’ jobs if school students decide that they cannot afford to remain in school post-16. The grass-roots campaign against these cuts has been an inspiration to older trade unionists. Now we have to do all we can to back these protests over the next few days.

Schools at this time of year are usually just looking forward wearily to the Christmas break – and the Con-Dems will be hoping that the wintry weather could also help dampen the mood to protest. We need to prove them wrong – but that means acting now to publicise the NUT support for these events.

In summary, the circulars confirm that (as well as other events that will be organised by students):
·    There will be a period of intense campaigning activity over the coming week in the run up to the tuition fees vote, including protests at universities across the country on 8 December 2010 (the day prior to the vote in Parliament); and a mass lobby of MPs on 9 December 2010 itself, followed by a rally in Westminster and candle-lit vigil.
·     There will be a joint day of action to ‘Save EMA’ on Monday, 13 December 2010.  The focus of this day will be on localised college/school activity at lunchtime. A joint website has been set up at . It  includes a petition which we should encourage members to sign.

As with previous action around tuition fees, the NUT is not calling for pupils to walk out and members should be advised that they should not encourage pupils to leave their classes, nor publically call for others to do so. However, it is hoped that retired members and part-time members not working on that day will be able to attend these activities.  It is also hoped that some members may be able to reach agreement with head teachers on the release from schools and sixth form colleges of teachers wishing to attend the protests, where lessons can be covered.

Please act now to help build the campaign in your area. For example:
·    Contact reps in schools with sixth forms and sixth form colleges to tell them about these events
·    Contact other trade unions and see what joint activities can be organised locally

Martin Powell-Davies, NUT Executive Member for Inner London

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Twisted Logic of Gove's White Paper

The Government’s Education White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’ is a poisonous amalgam of twisted logic and dangerous threats to teachers and the future of education.

Clegg and Cameron’s foreword sets the tone with its deceiving distortions. They quite rightly say that we have to learn from other countries like Finland – but their educational and economic policies are in total contradiction to the relative social equality that Finland’s success has been based upon.

The Con-Dem’s want more Academies and Free Schools. But more children succeed in Finland precisely because they have resisted privatisation and maintained a broadly comprehensive system.

Finland doesn’t have a witch-hunting Ofsted-style inspection regime nor does it publish the divisive school league tables that stigmatise schools in the most disadvantaged communities. But the Con-Dems want to force schools into becoming Academies if they don’t reach their heightened ‘floor targets’ of 35% A*-C GCSE’s (including English and Maths) or 60 % achieving Level 4 in Year 6.

The White Paper claims that it is reducing ‘prescription’ but, while promising a review of testing, states clearly in advance that the Con-Dems will maintain the national testing that forces fearful schools to adopt ‘teaching-to-the-test’. Far from granting freedom to primary teachers, the White Paper insists that ‘synthetic phonics’ is the best way to teach reading, when, in reality, it is just one of a range of techniques that children can benefit from.

Instead of abolishing league tables, the white paper proposes extending them, moving closer to the divisive strategy of producing not just school-by-school but teacher-by-teacher comparisons. This Government of millionaires wants to scapegoat teachers when their own failings to tackle poverty, poor housing and unemployment are really to blame.

Gove will abolish the ‘value-added’ league tables which, for all their faults, went some way to recognising that, however well a school tries to meet pupil needs, home background remains the main influence on exam outcomes. Gove simply declares that ‘we do not expect pupils eligible for free school meals to make less progress’. But his Government’s vicious attacks on jobs, services and benefits will only accentuate those very real factors that discriminate against working-class children.

43% of Finnish 20-29 year-olds have had a university education. But the Con-Dems’ plans to abolish EMA and charge £9,000 tuition fees will steal that opportunity away from so many young people.

In Finland, class sizes are below average, teachers have shorter teaching hours – meaning more time to prepare lessons. But in Britain, class sizes will rise and workload worsen as budgets are cut. The ‘Pupil Premium’ will not add new money to budgets. On the contrary, it has been estimated that 60% of primary students and 87% of secondary students will see their school’s real funding fall when allocations are finally calculated. The White Paper also proposes cuts to school sixth form funding.

Included in the White Paper’s various claims about reducing ‘bureaucracy’ are comments about loosening lesson planning requirements – along with other proposals such as speeding up the time it takes to investigate allegations against teachers -  that could sound attractive to staff. However, the regulations that Gove will be keenest to remove will be those protecting our pay and conditions.

Gove’s abolition of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body and his letter to the School Teachers Review Body calling on them “to reduce the rigidity of the existing pay and conditions framework” shows that he expects schools to balance their budgets at the expense of staff.  Those limited workload protections that survive in national legislation such as the right to time out of class for ‘PPA’ (planning, preparation and assessment), could soon be under attack.  Gove will be looking to give schools even greater powers to set teacher against teacher through performance-related pay.  Staff will be told to knuckle down and do as management tells them – or face a continual pay freeze.

What’s certain is that the White Paper will mark a further sharpening of the bullying management regime that has already taken grip of so many of our schools. For example, it proposes removing the existing annual limit of three hours of management observations of a teacher’s lessons as well as ‘shortening’ capability procedures to make it easier for teachers to be bullied out of their jobs.

The White Paper pretends to acknowledge how important it is to have high quality teaching. But it proposes handing over much of teacher training from universities to over-worked schools. Many new teachers will just be thrown in schools to ‘sink or swim’ without any chance for a broader study of pedagogy. The idea that a ‘Troops to Teachers’ programme can restore ‘authority in the classroom’ is Tory nonsense. ‘Hands up children’ could certainly take on a new meaning!

Some of the proposals may indeed be laughable, but the White Paper is a very serious attack on what remains of democratically accountable comprehensive Local Authority education.

Shamefully, New Labour promoted the marketisation of public services, following the mantra that ‘competition works’. In reality, the market creates both winners and losers, as each school looks after its own interest rather than the needs of every child in the community. Resources are stolen from local communities and handed over to education businesses. The Con-Dems are taking Labour’s Academy programme to its logical conclusion. The White Paper even quotes approvingly from Blair’s autobiography about how Academies are ‘freed from the ... interference from state’.

Having already encouraged ‘outstanding’ schools to jump ship from Local Authorities, Gove now wants to force supposedly ‘failing’ or even ‘satisfactory’ schools into Academies. His model of ‘collaboration through Academy chains and multi-school trusts’ is a clear plan to replace public Local Authorities with private conglomerates. The White Paper makes clear that the Con-Dems have already lined up their big business friends as sponsors “who are keen to extend their reach”.

Gove wants to go beyond Academies with his privatised Free Schools - based on the anti-union US Charter Schools being peddled in the film “Waiting for Superman”. Free Schools will be allowed to expand at the expense of community schools. The White Paper makes clear that “where there is a need for a new school, the first choice will be an Academy or Free School’. This is a major threat in areas like London where a rising school population will require an urgent expansion of school places.

Of course, another ‘bureaucracy’ that privatised schools will really want to have removed is any restriction on their ability to select the pupils they teach. Gove’s promise to consult on a “simplified and less prescriptive Admissions Code” could be a further step towards open selection.

Teaching and education is indeed of vital importance to our communities and our youth. But this White Paper is a blueprint for dismantling comprehensive education – along with the pay and conditions of school staff. Alongside defending pensions, school staff need to be ready to respond to any attack on our national pay and conditions with strike action. Together with our communities we must organise to defeat the Con-Dem’s drive to privatise and dismantle Local Authority schooling

Monday, 29 November 2010

Lewisham Labour Group votes for cuts

There was anger at tonight's Town Hall protests as Lewisham's Labour Group voted through the first tranche of their £60M cuts package at the full council meeting. Not a single Labour councillor voted against, one even claiming that they had a responsibility to carry out 'democratic socialist' cuts!

A rally outside heard from trade unionists, service users and students from Goldsmiths Collge who had marched down to Catford to support the protest. As they axed 400 jobs, the Labour Group also voted to cut the 'Opening Doors' centre for the unemployed.

I left after the rally finished to speak at the UCL occupation in Central London, but as I drove away, police cars were going the other way back to the Town Hall. Protestors report that riot shields and police horses were used against the crowd.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Should student protestors be treated as 'truants'?

Last week's walkouts by school students have posed a lot of difficult questions for teacher trade unionists.

Active trade unionists - and many others at the sharp end of government attacks - have been inspired by the mass turnouts at the student demonstrations. They have helped to change the debate from 'will' we fight the cuts to 'how' do we fight the cuts.

It seems that debate was taking place in the middle of Whitehall on Wednesday. The school students who linked arms around that police van, to try and prevent others falling into the trap of attacking it, showed clearly that they knew exactly why they were in Whitehall - and what strategy was needed to defeat the attacks on EMA and their hopes of a university education.

Many young people have also understood that they should link up with trade unions. For the NUT, the 'how' has got to mean urgently co-ordinating ballots for national strike action with other unions like the UCU and PCS against the joint attacks on pay, jobs and pensions. However, the timescales needed for national ballots mean that this action won't be taking place before the Government votes on tuition fees.

So, in their urgent struggle, students and school students are likely to be taking action again before Christmas. The UCU Higher Education Conference voted to call on other public sector unions and the NUS to mobilise activity on the day that Parliament debates the fee increases. As on November 10th, NUT Divisions should try and support local activities where they can.

These attacks are also an attack on teachers' jobs. If young people cannot afford to - or cannot see the point in - staying on post-16, then pupil numbers will fall. The Government's White Paper has alreday proposed cutting funding for school sixth forms.

However, what many youth (and their parents) have been asking is whether the NUT can support them when schools try to discipline them for attending demonstrations during school time.

First of all, the NUT has made it clear that teachers cannot encourage pupils to be absent from school. That has to be a decision for school students and their families. Teachers may also have concerns about young people, who might otherwise be in our care, being out of school - concerns that parents will need to think about.

However, where schools are considering taking disciplinary action against pupils who attended demonstrations, I think it is right for NUT groups to question where Heads and/or governors are coming down heavily on pupils. Parents may well also want to complain against sanctions being applied against their sons and daughters.

Not every teacher will agree. The self-organisation of pupils can be seen as a threat. But why should it be? It's true that there were some difficult days in some schools last week with excited pupils and disruption to lessons - particularly where schools were trying to prevent pupils leaving the school site. But some schools avoided such a confrontation by taking a more sympathetic approach and asking parents to discuss with their children about what they should do.

Ceratinly, rather than just trying to clampdown on walkouts, schools could follow the suggestion of a teacher writing in last week's London Evening Standard and provide space for pupils to discuss the issues involved.

Surely schools should distinguish between pupils who are just 'truanting' and young people who want to legitimately protest about an attack on their funding and futures.

What do you think?

Martin Powell-Davies

Support builds for co-ordinated strike action

All of the meetings that I have spoken at over the last few days have given enthusiastic support for the NUT linking up with other unions and taking co-ordinated national strike action next term. Now is the time to make sure that action takes place.

On Wednesday (while students and trade unionists - including Billy Hayes of the CWU were still trapped in the Whitehall 'kettle') I took the tube to Hammersmith to speak at a substantial meeting called by their Trades Council to set up their borough anti-cuts campaign. I pointed out that the local campaign to oppose Kenmont Primary School becoming an Academy was just one example of how we can link communities and trade unions together to defend our public services. But, to really make this Government think again, we urgently needed to put TUC policy of co-ordinating industrial action into practice.

On Thursday, I had the chance to contribute at a meeting of over 500 at Goldsmiths University. UCU delegates returning from their Higher Education Conference were able to report on two key decisions:
a) That the UCU should approach the NUS and all the public sector unions to seek a joint mobilisation on the day that Parliament debates tuition fees (a date in December yet to be finalised).
b) That the UCU should ballot for national strike action at the end of January over the threats to lecturers' pay and pensions.

NUT members should participate where they can in the UCU December protests - just like many NUT Associations did on November 10. But, to the enthusiastic support from the meeting, I pointed out that a joint NUT/UCU ballot in January/February could lead to a mass shutdown of schools and colleges so that teachers, lecturers, students, school students and their parents would be able to march together in a massive show of strength against the attacks on our pay and pensions - and on education as a whole.

The same message was well received on Friday evening when I spoke at meetings inside the student occupation of SOAS in Central London and of the Day-Mer youth group in Tottenham. Mark Serwotka's call for joint NUT/UCU and PCS action at Saturday's Coalition of Resistance Conference went down even better!

As Mark pointed out, it was time that trade union leaders stopped giving excuses as to why action could NOT be organised and started to find ways that we COULD organise co-ordinated action. Repeating again his call for 'not a single job to be lost, not a single penny cut from pay', Mark made clear the responsibility on trade unions to organise the mass action that has the power to defeat the Con-Dem Government's attacks.

The students have inspired an older generation to fight. Now they are looking to trade unions to take the action that we have promised we will organise. It is hard enough to explain to angry students why the anti-union laws mean that a careful ballot and clearly identified dispute must be in place before strike action is called. However, there is no reason to delay any longer than the limits placed on us by the legal requirements.

Of course, above all, we have to have support of our own members. However, teachers themselves are also being affected by the growing mood of anger - and the attack on pensions, paying more for less and retiring older, is something teachers are certainly angry about. Motions passed by Lewisham NUT - and most recently Bolton NUT - confirm that support for action.

The NUT Executive meeting in December must not hesitate. Our November decision to ballot over pensions has helped show a way forward. The UCU and PCS are ready to co-ordinate with us. Now we must agree a firm timetable for ballots and co-ordinated action.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A Letter to the Evening Standard

Dear Editor
Your article suggesting that ‘crazy’ teachers allowed school students to join Wednesday’s demonstration misses the point entirely. Teachers did not encourage pupils to be absent from school. That was a decision made by the students and their families.

But is it any wonder that so many decided to protest? Their hopes of a university education are being snatched away from them along with the Education Maintenance Allowance that so many of our poorest students rely on.

Young people who took a collective decision to protest about such a threat to their futures should not be treated as if they were just unthinkingly 'truanting' lessons. The footage of 15-year olds in Whitehall standing arm-in-arm to persuade others not to fall into the trap of attacking the conveniently abandoned police van shows an admirable degree of bravery and understanding.

It is the Metropolitan Police who should be explaining why they provoked such tensions by refusing to allow the march to proceed along the route agreed with the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign.

Teachers will continue to work to get the best exam results for our students. But it is for Government to provide the jobs and university places that previous generations would have expected in return.

Martin Powell-Davies, Member of the NUT Executive for Inner London.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Police Tactics provoke tensions in Whitehall

Having been invited to speak as a member of the NUT Executive at the rally to be held before today's march in London to protest about tuition fees and EMA cuts, I arrived in Whitehall to find that the march was already stationary at the entrance to Parliament Square and surrounded by police cordons.

It was clear that some protestors were angry - the 'kettling' tactics were only making things worse. However, most of the young people there were entirely peaceful - just frustrated at not being able to continue the march.

What was the justification for the cordons - put in place before the police van was rocked which I have just seen the BBC give as the reason for the 'kettle' - not after? A route had been agreed beforehand by the police with the march organisers - it seems that the police then decided to ignore that agreement.

I manged to blag my way through and back out of the police lines and talked to a few demonstrators. One was clear that she had seen what seemed like 'provocateurs' deliberately pushing over fences and that she had warned youngsters not to join in.

If I had spoken to the rally, I was going to point out that a previous Tory PM had been thrown out twenty years ago - not by a poll tax 'riot' but by the mass action of millions of people organised against the poll tax in every part of Britain.

Young people have every right to be angry. That anger needs to be channelled into an organised movement of trade unions, students and communities to challenge a government that is trying to steal away young people's future and the public services and benefits that have been won by the trade union movement over previous generations.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Ireland: The Bond Market Demands Its Ransom Again

The demands that will be placed on the people of Ireland as a result of the EU/IMF deal - more cuts, more job losses, more privatisation - are a stark warning to trade unionists in Britain about what happens if trade unions step back instead of organising mass action to defend jobs, pensions and services.

It's also a stark warning that the Con-Dem austerity measures will only make matters worse for ordinary people. But the bond-markets are laughing all the way to the bank after they successfully attacked Greece, then Ireland and will now move on to Portugal and Spain.

But as Irish Socialist MEP Joe Higgins declared, " RTE says that 'Everyone is really a hostage to the bond markets!’ but isn’t mass hostage taking a grievous crime against humanity?  Isn’t  it official policy that you don’t pay the ransom demanded?" Shouldn't the bond holders take the losses instead of working people?

As Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Campaign pointed out at the recent SERTUC Public Services Conference, of the £200 billion of 'quantitative easing' designed to boost the economy, around a quarter went straight into bankers profits - to reflate their earnings, not the economy. He has calculated that £120 billion goes wasted in tax evasion, tax avoidance and uncollected taxes.

A small group of bond-holders and bankers are trying to hold the rest of us to ransom. It's time to stand up to the bullies - with co-ordinated trade union action.

Fees protests gather strength

Young people - and their parents and teachers - have every right to be angry. Their hopes of a university education are being snatched away from them by a Government that wants them to pay £9,000 a year tuition fees. When you add on the other costs of funding a young person through college, how many working-class - and middle-class - families can afford to take on that kind of debt mountain?

Of course, the real debt mountain has been created by the banks and the bond markets - but  they want us to pay for it.

On top of that, the Education Maintenance Allowance is being scrapped to be replaced by  'targeted support'. But, as the latest TES FEfocus editorial correctly put it, "The new "targeted" support is just a euphenism for cuts ... [it is] an admission of defeat disguised as a policy. It says that you cannot create the conditions where all young people will want to stay in education or have the money to afford it. This is not a situation that a wealthy, advanced country like the UK should ever have to face".

That is the brutal truth - that the Government are admitting that they have no intention of offering young people a decent future. That shocking truth has perhaps hit home the hardest on those young people in sixth forms that had, until now, always expected to go to university. Small wonder that some have decided that they will be joining older students on the protests organised for Wednesday November 24th.

Haberdashers' Aske's School in my Authority, Lewisham, is one of the schools where the press have publicised that students are planning to protest on November 24th. As I told the South London Press, this would be a decision for the students and their families to make, not their teachers. Teachers cannot encourage pupils to be absent from school.

However, I think many people will consider that young people who take a collective decision to protest about such a threat to their futures should not be treated as if they were just unthinkingly 'truanting' lesons. That's why I have contacted the school and asked that they do not take disciplinary action against those who do take part in the protest.

Britain is indeed a wealthy country. That wealth should be invested in the futures of our youth, not squandered on the gambling debts of the bond traders and bankers.

The 50,000 strong demonstration on November 10th showed how a younger generation can help inspire an older generation to use the power of organised trade union struggle to oppose these devastating cuts - and to demand that a decent education should be a right for all, not just a privilege for those that can afford it.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Unions and Campaigners Lobby Lewisham Council

Trade unions and campaigners held a lively lobby of Lewisham Council's Mayor and Cabinet meeting this evening. The meeting was held to push through the first part of their £60M cuts package.

Users of the services being cut - like the five local libraries - joined with trade unions and their banners from NUT, GMB, UNITE, UNISON and UCU.

Most of the cuts were agreed - but only after the meeting had to be adjourned for half an hour after protestors disrupted the meeting. The pressure from the libraries campaign meant that these closures were 'deferred' for the time being. However, the cuts targets won't have gone away and so these - and other services - are still vulnerable.

Unermployed users of the 'Opening Doors' employment advice centre pleaded to the councillors to save their service - but to no avail. The irony of cutting a service to help the unemployed at the same time as putting through 400 more job cuts was clearly lost on the Mayor and Cabinet.

But the size of the Lobby - joined by students and school students too - shows that the fightback against the cuts is growing.

I appealed to the union delegations present to go back and demand that their Executives agree to co-ordinate strike action alongside the NUT in the New Year.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Lewisham NUT votes to build for action

The following motion was agreed unanimously at tonight's Lewisham NUT General Meeting:

Lewisham NUT welcomes the fact that trade unions, students and local communities are starting to organise against the austerity package demanded by this millionaire Con-Dem government which, if implemented, would mean:
* mass privatisation of services
* over a million job cuts
* a tripling of student fees
* drastic cuts to welfare benefits
* attacks on national pay and conditions
* making workers pay more to retire older for less pension

We believe that these cuts will only be defeated by powerful united action led by the trade unions, and backed up together with campaigns of service users, welfare claimants, students, pensioners and others.

We applaud the decision of the NUT National Executive to bring to the December meeting of the Executive a timetable of campaigning and action to take place before the Hutton Commission produces its final report in Spring 2011 which includes:
i)    The production and distribution of campaigning materials for use with members and the public;
ii)    Plans for meetings, rallies demonstrations and lobbying activities;
iii)    A ballot for strike action to take place in the spring term.

We are pleased that the Union is seeking the maximum co-ordination with other public sector unions in all of the above activities and call on Lewisham NUT members to:
a)     encourage members of other trade unions to call on their national unions to support  co-ordinated action with the NUT and other unions.
b)    call meetings in their schools to explain the decision of the NUT Executive and to prepare for a ballot in the Spring Term, including updating membership lists and home addresses.

We congratulate the NUS and UCU for the excellent turnout of over 50,000 at the demonstration against cuts and the increase in tuition fees on November 10th but are angered by the attempts by the Evening Standard to falsely accuse members of Goldsmiths UCU of supporting ‘violent protest’.

We agree with the Goldsmiths UCU Executive that “it is deeply ironic that a statement put out as a counter to the largely misrepresentative media coverage of the demonstration was itself severely misrepresented” and endorse the original statement’s view that:
 “the real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are implemented” and that “today’s events demonstrate the deep hostility in the UK towards the cuts proposed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. We hope that this marks the beginning of a sustained defence of public services and welfare provision as well as education”.

We believe that trade union industrial action has a central role to play in that campaign and congratulate members of the FBU, RMT and TSSA for the action that they have taken in London in defence of their jobs and our services. In solidarity, we agree to pay a total of £500 to the hardship funds of the three unions made up of £200 to the FBU, £200 to the RMT and £100 to the TSSA.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Cutting pensions: A political decision, not an economic necessity

The battle is on to defend our pensions. We'll be balloting for action in the spring term. Here are some key arguments to help you build for that action:

Taken from the NUT website:
(look under the Protecting your Pensions section for a powerpoint and speaker's notes).

John Hutton's own report recognises that the cost of public sector pensions is falling as a result of the reforms to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) and other public sector pension schemes agreed back in 2005/6.

Graph taken from John Hutton's first report:

Yes, spending will rise in the short term, as an ageing workforce with protected pension rights reaches retirement age.  The most recent projections confirm, however, that while the cost will go up in the short term from around 1.7% of GDP in 2006-7 to around 2 per cent of GDP, it will then fall back to around 1.4 per cent of GDP (assuming the switch from RPI to CPI indexation goes ahead). 

In previous years, of course, when contributions into the pension scheme exceeded pension payments from the scheme, the Government simply kept that money.

Public sector pensions are affordable.  Costs will fall as planned.  The attack on our pensions is a political decision not an economic necessity.

In short, this information from the NUT website shows that, even using Hutton's own economic arguments, the attack on our pensions is just plain robbery. 

Of course, if the wealthy financiers that caused the crisis were made to pay their way, then our pensions and public services could be improved - not cut at all. But good arguments alone can't shift this government - but co-ordinated national strike action can.

Hackney NUT fighting Academies

I am posting this message circulated from Hackney NUT - please send in messages of support

No More Academies in Hackney
Keep our schools community schools

NUT members in Hackney have been campaigning since the summer against moves to turn all three remaining non-church comprehensives into Academies. We already have 5 Academies in Hackney, and that is 5 too many. Now they want Clapton School for Girls, Haggerston school and Stoke Newington school to join them.

We have campaigned in our own schools, and with parents. Last weekend parents and teachers in Stoke Newington leafleted and petitioned  our local market, and teachers from Clapton school set up a stall in central Hackney. Both gained a lot of support from parents and local residents.

The NUT has held indicative ballots in Clapton, Haggerston and Stoke Newington Schools, over opposing Academy status. In the ballot, teachers voted as follows, on the question: 'are you prepared to take sustained and discontinuous strike action in furtherance of the dispute over closure of your school and the enforced consequential change of employer':
Clapton Girls School Hackney
YES Vote 38 (73.%) 
No Vote 7 (13.46%)
Stoke Newington School Hackney
YES Vote 63 (83.79%)     
NO Vote 2  (2.66%)
Haggerston School Hackney
YES Vote 30    (71.4%)     
 NO Vote 2     (4.76%)

The ballot results were fantastic, and a credit to the membership in all three schools. We now need to decide how to take the campaign forward in all three schools. Please send messages of support to to NUT reps in all three schools:
Clapton: Annette Lynch and Des Barrow; Haggerston: Kate Ford; Stoke Newington: Jane Bassett

Other updates from the November National Executive

The key decision taken at November's NUT National Executive was obviously the unanimous vote to ballot for strike action over pensions in the spring term, but here is a summary of some of the other discussions:

National Demonstrations
The Executive congratulated the NUS and UCU  for the excellent turnout on Wednesday's demonstration. The NUT will be talking to the UCU about co-ordinating our actions together. The NUT will also be building for the TUC's national demonstration on 26 March. We had supported the PCS union in their argument that the TUC needed to show a greater urgency and organise a demonstration before then. Unfortunately, most other public sector unions have not supported us - but plans are still being discussed.

Action to Defend Central Services
Schools are waiting to hear firm news about their budgets but many boroughs face immediate cuts to their advisers and other central teams. The NUT Executive agreed that we must expose the educational damage that these cuts will cause - and that we will support ballots for strike action - across the whole of a Local Authority if necessary - to  oppose them.

Health and Safety threatened
The Executive discussed Lord Young's review of Health and Safety. Tabloid attacks on supposed 'bureaucracy' hide the Government's intention to undermine vital legal protections for teachers and school students. The 35% cuts to the Health and Safety Executive budget confirm our fears.

More attacks on pay and conditions on the way
Michael Gove has written to the School Teachers' Review Body signalling that he wants a further review in the spring into "the introduction of greater freedoms and flexibilities... to reduce the rigidity of the existing pay and conditions framework". He may try to rush through these attacks by September 2011. The Executive agreed to seek joint teacher union opposition to these attacks.

Sixth Form Colleges Consultative Ballot
For September 2010, most teachers still received a 2.3% award - at least a small increase on our salary slips. But teachers in sixth form colleges - where negotiations are ongoing - have been offered a derisory 0.75%. Ballot papers will be going to affected NUT members recommending rejection of the offer and also recommending that they show their support for strike action on the issue.

The new booklet summarising NUT policy and teachers' rights on workload has been issued to school reps. An updated classroom observation policy is also available on the NUT website. The Executive also agreed that we will be making lesson planning a particular focus for campaigning in the New Year.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

NUT to ballot for action to defend pensions

Teachers’ pensions are under attack. But the NUT is going to fight to defend them.

The November NUT Executive agreed unanimously that we prepare a campaigning timetable building up to a ballot for strike action in the spring term.

The Government are trying to claim that our existing pensions’ scheme is ‘unaffordable’. The most recent valuations of the Teachers’ Pensions Scheme confirm that’s just not true. They just want to rip-off our pensions to pay for their debts.

The first Hutton report made quite clear what the Government intends – to make us retire older and pay more for less pension.

October’s Comprehensive Spending Review made the threat clearer. The Government plans for all teachers to be paying another 3% of our salaries in pension contributions. That’s a big pay cut. It’s a cut that we cannot accept.

On top of that, the Government have switched the indexation of pension benefits from the Retail Price Index to the lower Consumer Price Index. That change alone could cost a teacher tens of thousands of pounds in retirement.

When the Hutton Commission issues its final report in March, it could include further attacks. Changed pension calculations – like using ‘career-averages’ – could cut pension payouts. Our retirement age could go up – to 65 for all of us – but perhaps to 67 and beyond – unless we make a stand.

We can’t wait for Hutton’s Final Report in March to reveal the full details of these attacks. To make Hutton and the Government think again, we have to take action before then – hopefully co-ordinated with other teaching and non-teaching unions too.

That’s why the NUT Executive agreed unanimously to produce a timetable for:

• Distribution of campaigning materials

• Meetings, rallies and demonstrations

• A ballot for strike action in the spring term.

We will approach other unions to seek maximum co-ordination in all of the above activities and then confirm our action timetable at the December meeting of the NUT Executive.

Get the news out to every school – the fight to defend our pensions is on!

This is the full text of the motion that was agreed:

The Executive recognises that:
a) the proposals of the Hutton Commission;
b) the decision to switch the indexation of pension benefits from RPI to CPI;
c) the inclusion in the Comprehensive Spending Review of an assumption that public sector workers will pay 3% more of their salary in pension contributions
together represent a much bigger threat to our pensions that the proposals we fought in 2005.

The Executive instructs the General Secretary to bring to the December meeting of the Executive a timetable of campaigning and action to take place before the Hutton Commission produces its final report in Spring 2011.

This timetable should include:
i) The production and distribution of campaigning materials for use with members and the public;
ii) Plans for meetings, rallies demonstrations and lobbying activities;
iii) A ballot for strike action to take place in the spring term.
In order to support this work the Executive agrees:
a) that the Union should use its electronic facilities to inform members about this campaign and survey their views on all aspects of it;
b) that Executive members should work with Regional and Wales Offices in supporting divisions and associations in building this campaign.

Finally, the Executive recognises that the Union should seek the maximum co-ordination with other public sector unions in all of the above activities and instructs the General Secretary to approach other unions with a view to this and bring a report to the December meeting of the Executive.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

50,000 students and lecturers march in Whitehall

Today's joint march by students and lecturers was a tremendous step forward in the battle against the cuts. Who can argue now that the movement can't fill the streets of London?

Whitehall was thronged with over 50,000 demonstrators - lecturers with their UCU members, a few NUT banners too, but, above all, tens of thousands of youth with their home-made banners and chants against the Tories - but most of all against the lying Nick Clegg " ... shame on you, for turning blue...".

Today's action will help encourage the UCU to vote for a ballot for strike action against cuts and attacks on conditions and education at their special Higher Education Conference later this month.  It was also an encouragement to those of us meeting for the NUT Executive who will also be discussing our plans for strike action against the pension attacks in the spring term.

Could we agree on a co-ordinated ballot that could result in a complete education shutdown of schools and universities - and perhaps other unions joining in too ?

Report to follow tomorrow on what the NUT Executive decides !

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Lewisham needs its jobs and services


In July, trade unionists and service users lobbied Lewisham Council to protest against the plan to cut millions of pounds from council services. Four months on, the Mayor and Cabinet are meeting to finally agree that cuts package.

Lewisham Teachers’ Association (NUT) is calling a lobby once again to say:

Council officers have written to the NUT and other unions to tell us that the cuts going to the Cabinet meeting  will mean 446 staff  losing their jobs.
But Lewisham already has the worst ratio  between job seekers and job vacancies in  the whole country.
These cuts will make it even harder to find jobs.

Vital services are at risk:
Five Local Libraries - New Cross, Sydenham, Crofton Park, Grove Park and Blackheath.
Community Safety & Wardens - 20 posts to go.
Amersham EY Centre - now identified for closure.
Health & Safety Team - support for schools cut.
‘Opening Doors’ - advice on how to find work - cut!

Cuts to Lewisham’s School Improvement Team will mean less support for schools.
The ‘Phase 2’ cuts round could see more services suffer - such as loss of vital support for Traveller Pupils and the possible closure of the Lewisham LLDCentre in Kilmorie Road. Schools need central support - not left to work alone.

The Lobby is also being called by Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance, Lewisham Trades Council and Save Lewisham’s Libraries Campaign.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Great Unrest - 100 years ago

Lest we forget...
the history of our movement
A hundred years ago, in 'the Great Unrest', London's trade unionists took mass action to defend their conditions.
Let's mark its centenary with mass action again!

Stealing the future from our youth

The future prospects for today’s young people are the worst for generations – unless communities and trade unions organise to fight this Government’s cuts.

Of course we have faced unemployment and cutbacks before, but spending cuts of this scale have not been seen in Britain since the 1920’s. The hope of ‘progress’ – that your life will be better than that of your parents, and your children’s better again than yours – will be shattered. Everything that has been won by the labour movement – like the national health service, pensions, housing and disability benefits, affordable university education – is all under threat.

It is predicted that the cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review will mean the loss of at least 1 million jobs. Unemployment could rise to 4 million. And now the Tories are threatening that they will force the unemployed to work for their benefit. As usual, young people, working-class and minority communities will be worst hit.

The escape route through gaining qualifications at school and college will also be blocked. The Education Maintenance Allowance for post-16 students will be scrapped. Funding for courses for English for Speakers of Other Languages will be axed. Universities face a staggering 80% cut in the funding. To help balance budgets, university tuition fees will rise to £9,000 per year. How many families will want to risk their sons and daughters taking on those kind of debts?

Things are little better in schools. The axe may not have fallen quite so harshly as on some other services but big cuts are still being made. Even with the promised ‘pupil premium’ to help education, most schools will see their budgets fall. Class sizes will increase as teaching and support staff posts are lost. Cuts in council grants are already leading to significant job losses amongst the specialist Local Authority staff who provide support to schools.

To escape cuts, schools are being bribed with the ‘Trojan Horse’ of abandoning their Local Councils and becoming an independent Academy school. But, like every privatisation of services, Academies will make education worse, not better. Instead of elected councils planning education in the interests of the whole community, individual Academies will only look after their own interests – and those of their business backers. Again, the most vulnerable parts of the community will be the losers.

Government Ministers tell us that ‘there is no alternative’ but to swallow this harsh medicine. But throwing millions out of work won’t improve the economy, it will make it worse.

They say that ‘we are all in this together’. Yet, while ordinary families suffer, Britain’s corporation tax for big business stands at only 28% - the lowest in the developed world. Now they want to cut it even further to 24%! The UCU, the University lecturers’ union, point out that just raising corporation tax to the average 32% would be enough to fully fund universities and get rid of tuition fees altogether.

Ordinary Londoners, teachers and students are the ones that must be ‘all in this together’ – united against the attacks on education and fighting for the future of our young people. Unless we campaign, communities could be divided by racism, youth divided by gangs and destructive rivalry.

The Con-Dem government needs to be warned that British workers can take action just like our brothers and sisters in Spain, France, Greece and other countries. The ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher was turned to rust when she tried to attack the whole community through the hated ‘poll-tax’. These cuts are an even greater attack on all of us. Together, we can defeat them again.

Friday, 5 November 2010

London FBU Suspension of Strike Action

Please pass on this information from Ian Leahair, FBU Executive Council member

The Fire Brigades Union and its members in London are overwhelmed by the many letters of support and solidarity received from trade unions affiliated to the NSSN and SERTUC, especially PCS, RMT, NUT, CWU and SERTUC, whilst the strike planned for the 5th and 6th November 2010 has been suspended, this in no way infers that the dispute has concluded.

In view of the media attention yesterday and the shambolic exploits of the chair of LFEPA Councillor Brian Coleman, we feel that it is necessary to put the record straight as the media is clearly not prepared to portray the truth, but instead concentrate on the lies, spin and rhetoric that spill from the mouth of the Tory bully (Coleman).

Contrary to the claims of Brian Coleman, the decision by the FBU in London to suspend strikes was based upon sound judgement and significant movement from management.

You will by now be aware that contrary to the claims made by the Fire Minister, The Mayor of London, The Chair of LFEPA and the Commissioner of the LFB that the Capitals public would be safe on what is the busiest night of the year for the London Fire Brigade. The FBU and our member’s in London do not accept such claims and we believe that the contingency plans and use of inadequately trained AssetCo staff are neither sufficient nor adequate to ensure the safety of the public at this time.

To support our claims that the LFB were prepared to put the public at risk through this weekend, we have evaluated how the AssetCo staff performed during the previous two strike dates, whereby we witnessed AssetCo staff not capable of correctly using equipment with no understanding of how they should tackle a fire appropriately. Further concerns arose in the driving abilities of those staff when three of our members including myself were injured on picket lines.

Since the 31st Oct there have been three days of negotiations which failed to deliver a way forward, management maintained that their bottom line was 11/13 with strings and that they wanted the FBU to enter into arbitration on the 5th Nov with the threat of mass sackings still scheduled to take place on 26th November 2010. However in light of the above the FBU proposed to management they agree in writing:

1. That their bottom line is 11/13 with no strings.

2. That any decision on mass sackings would not take place on the 18th November 2010.

3. That management agree to attend a Resolution Advisory Panel on 16th November 2010.

I am pleased to report that management gave a full written agreement to the above and therefore the London Regional Committee felt that this was enough to suspend the proposed strike action in order that the general public could enjoy both Diwali and the Fireworks festivities, safe in the knowledge that should that require attendance of the Fire Brigade then the public would receive an attendance of professionally trained Firefighters as opposed to a makeshift gaggle of un experienced and poorly trained individuals.

Furthermore, we believe that we are now better placed to enter into arbitration on our terms and not the terms of the employer, we also believe that we will now not be entering such arbitration with a loaded gun against our heads.
More importantly, management’s written agreement to the above, also secures that our members will be able to be consulted fully on any recommendation that may be derived from such arbitration, without the threat of mass sackings on the 18th November 2010.

Had Management have agreed to this position earlier then we would not have needed to take strike action, but clearly it has been our unity and strike action that has forced them to commit to such an agreement as outlined above.

Yours Fraternally

Ian Leahair
Executive Council Member for London
Fire Brigades Union

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

FBU Pickets hospitalised - visit the picket lines on Friday

A solid picket-line formed outside Lewisham Fire Station all day with striking FBU members cheered by the constant tooting of passing cars - showing that many other workers had not been taken in by the press attacks.

Pickets explained that:
"this dispute has been brewing a long time. Management are always 'take' but no 'give', taking advantage of our goodwill every time. They want to run the fire-service as if it's a business".
"When the redundancy notices were followed up by threats of pay deductions, the mood hardened. We've people join the union this time who weren't on strike in the last dispute"
"The response has been great from the guys at the station - and from the public too"
"On Saturday, we thought that the AssetCo scabs might come to Lewisham - but it appears they have moved in on some other stations today. But when Boris Johnson tries to say they can provide proper cover, anyone listening to the chaos on the radio channels last Saturday could tell they didn't know what they were doing. It seems that they've changed tactics today because we haven't been able to pick up the radio traffic yet".

However, later in the day it became clear that the change of 'tactics' had taken on a more sinister turn. As I visited the Forest Hill picket line, news came through of a picket being hit by a manager's car on the Croydon picket line. Then, in Southwark, an AssetCo engine struck Ian Leahair, FBU National Executive member. Both pickets were hospitalised although fortunately Ian's injuries are not too serious.

These attacks on trade unionists engaged in lawful trade union activity will only help convince public opinion that the Fire Authority is acting in a bullying and unreasonable manner in this dispute, not the FBU. I have sent a letter of complaint to the Fire Authority and encouraged others to do so too.

Teachers and other trade unionists should make every effort to get down to the FBU picket lines on Friday and stand in solidarity with fire-fighters taking action to defend their conditions and our fire service.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Beware - they want to break up our national conditions

The Government have announced that they are going to abolish the new School Staff Negotiating Body that was meant to agree national pay and conditions for support staff.

But teachers should beware, this is not just an attack on our support staff colleagues.

The Government announces spells out their intentions for ALL school staff: "The government has conducted a review of the future policy direction for determining school support staff pay and conditions, including the role of the SSSNB, and has concluded that the SSSNB does not fit well with the government's priorities for greater deregulation of the pay and conditions arrangements for the school workforce."

The Government wants to drive through cuts to our pay and conditions. Gove's plans for Academies and Free Schools are a key part in that drive to dismantle national condition.

Support London's firefighters

As Chair of SERTUC's Public Services Committee, I was pleased to chair a FBU Solidarity meeting on Thursday at Congress House that brought together support from a range of different trade unions and different boroughs across London.

The meeting proposed a range of practical measures to support the FBU, including asking for a draft message of support to be circulated that could be brought to picket lines on Monday 1st and/or on Friday 5th November.

I have circulated the following draft tonight:

Please accept this message of support to London's FBU members on behalf of

We believe that:
London FBU has been forced to take strike action in response to the disgraceful threat to sack over 5,000 fire-fighters unless you accept new worsened contracts.

Your strike shows how to respond when management tries to impose worsened conditions on staff, a tactic being tried out by a growing number of employers and Local Authorities as they seek to make cuts at the expense of their workforce.

Fire-fighters have every right to oppose changes to shift-patterns which would leave many families struggling to find childcare over extended day shifts.

This dispute is, however, about far more than shift changes. We recognise that the proposed changes are really designed to bring about a threat to every Londoner – the threat to cut emergency cover at night, the time when risks from fire are greatest.

Fire-fighters should not be vilified for standing firm when your employer refuses to negotiate but, instead, tries to break your action with badly trained strike-breakers.

Your excellent ballot result and solid strike action sets a clear example to all trade unionists how to stand together to fight attacks on jobs and public services.

We give you our support and pledge to organise as much concrete help and solidarity as we can to oppose the threat of mass sackings of fire-fighters.

I hope the letter also summarises some of the key arguments to take to trade union members in explaining why to support the FBU's action.

Health and safety reps may also find the following links from the ASLEF website useful in terms of some of the health and safety queries that were raised at the meeting:

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Thousands march against the cuts in London and other cities

Thousands of trade unionists and community campaigners marched through London today to show that they weren’t about to sit back and let the Con-Dem cuts destroy our services.

See videos of march on: and

With marches taking place in many other cities, including over 20,000 in Edinburgh, October 23rd shows that the trade union movement is, at last, starting to turn words into action.

But today’s London protest would only have been the indoor rally at TUC Congress House if it hadn’t had been for the RMT, FBU, PCS and National Shop Stewards Network organising to make sure a march also took place.

I was proud to help make sure that the NUT also gave support, along with other London trade unions like the UCU, UNITE and CWU. Banners and flags from trade union branches and trades councils from across London were on the march, led by striking members of the FBU.

Bob Crow and Matt Wrack, General Secretaries of the RMT and FBU made stirring speeches at the rally that packed into Bedford Square.

Speaking for the NUT, I talked of the worker who had grabbed my leaflet at Euston, saying “at last someone is doing something”. But there must be 1000’s more workers like him angrily watching the news, seeing their jobs and benefits cut, also looking for a lead.

Today’s march can help serve notice on the Tories that it isn’t just Greek or French workers that fight – we’re going to fight in Britain too.

Today’s strike by London’s fire-fighters shows how to stand up against the bullies and axemen. We have to unite communities, build anti cuts alliances, link together workers, students and the unemployed, but, above all, united trade union action is vital.

I called for the National Executives of the unions that are ready to battle to meet together as soon as possible and name the date for a national demonstration BEFORE Christmas – not waiting until March like the TUC.

It’s no longer time just for words, it’s time to act. We must also meet and agree the day for a 24-hour strike – and organise co-ordinated ballots to make sure it takes place.

It’s time to make this Government think again about their vicious cuts!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Join the London March Against the Cuts on Saturday!

So teachers are meant to be grateful that education budgets have 'only' been cut by 3.4%! That is just one indication of the depth of the spending cuts announced by the Government yesterday.

The facts behind the 'spin' are that schools spending - including the pupil premium - will grow by just 0.1% per year in real-terms (or 0.4% in total). However, total pupil numbers will increase by an average of 0.7% per year so that the total schools spending per pupil will be cut in real-terms by 0.6% per year (total of 2¼%). To make up the overall 3.4% cut, other central services and grants will also be badly hit.

With 1/2 a million public sector jobs to go - plus a similar amount to follow from the private sector - along with cuts to benefits and further pay cuts to pay for pensions, these cuts are an attack on all of us.

However, the Lobby of Parliament on Tuesday and the lively march to Downing Street on Wednesday shows that trade unionists, students and community campaigns are starting to get organised (at last!)

On Saturday, teachers have another chance to show their anger against these cuts and to march with other trade unions - including striking fire-fighters - on the London demonstration backed by PCS, RMT, FBU, CWU, FBU, UCU, - and now UNITE - as well as many NUT branches.

This is a real opportunity to build the joint trade union action that we all know is going to be vital in the months ahead.

Please urge your members to come to the march, assembling at 11am at Chalton Street, NW1 - nearest tube Euston on Saturday.

Come early if you can - just in case there is any disruption to the tubes as a result of any health and safety action owing to the fire-fighters' strike.

We march down Gower Street to finish at Bedford Square. For those who can't then get into the SERTUC Rally inside Congress House from midday, there will be an ongoing 'overspill' rally in Bedford Square. Matt Wrack of the FBU and Bob Crow of the RMT will be among the speakers in the square.

The national NUT banner will be on the march, and Christine Blower will be speaking at the SERTUC Rally in Congress House. There will be some NUT placards and flags to give out - but please bring your local banners too.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cuts Cost Lives - Support London's Firefighters

London's FBU members have voted by an overhwelming 79% majority in a 79% turnout to support strike action in defence of their conditions and London's fire service.

The first day of strike will be on Saturday October 23rd and FBU members will be stopping work at 10am to go straight to the joint trade union London 'No to Cuts' demonstration assembling at Chalton St, Euston at 11am.

a) Visit your local fire station and offer a message of support (see letter below).
b) Make sure you join the demonstration on Saturday - to say NO to the cuts that will have been announced by the Con-Dem Coalition on Wednesday - and to support London's firefighters as well.

Get your workmates and families, union branches and trades councils, youth and community campaigns to come along :

Saturday 23rd October
Assemble 11:00 am
outside RMT’s Unity House, 39 Chalton Street NW1 1JD
(off Euston Road, nearest tube Euston)

March to Bedford Square WC1B
to hear from Bob Crow (RMT), Matt Wrack (FBU) and other speakers,
then join the SERTUC rally in Congress House starting at 12 noon.

Here is my message of support to the FBU:

Please pass on this message of support to London's FBU members on my behalf and, I am sure, on behalf of NUT members across the Inner London boroughs that I represent.

Your excellent ballot result is a clear message to your employers that firefighters will not be bullied by threats of sackings and pay deductions. It also sends a clear example to other trade unionists how to stand together to fight the attacks on jobs and public services.

It is quite clear to the NUT that this dispute is not just about contracts, although the threatened changes to shift patterns would, alone, give you every justification to take action to defend the conditions of firefighters and their families who will struggle to find childcare over such extended day shifts. We understand that it is also about pushing through cuts to our fire service and preparing the ground for closing fire stations. I hope that we can help spread this message to teachers and schools.

We know that no fire-fighter lightly takes strike action and that you face an employer prepared to organise strike-breaking measures to undermine your action. However, with trade unionists around London facing their own attacks on jobs and services, you can be confident that London trade unionists will support your struggle.

Please do keep in contact about solidarity measures that we can help put in place and I look forward to seeing teachers and firefighters marching together on the London demonstration on 23 October.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

We're not accepting pay cuts to 'protect' school budgets

Discussions at the three-day NUT Divisional Secretaries Briefing confirmed the growing threat to national pay agreements – specifically the attempt by some local Authorities to, not only freeze points on the pay scale, but also to block any progression up the pay scale.

As reported in Classroom Teacher, the Tory Bury Council has already announced that it intends to impose this attack on its centrally-employed teachers and advisers. Other Divisions – including the NUT in Labour-run Greenwich – have reported the same threats being raised.

Unfortunately, it appears that advisory staff on Soulbury conditions may have fewer legal challenges to this attack than teachers employed under the Schoolteachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD). Nevertheless, the NUT are considering a Judicial Review on the one hand. On the other, affected staff in Bury will soon be sent an indicative ballot paper to judge support for industrial action.

However, as we feared, this could just be the start. The NAHT has written a letter to Michael Gove opposing cuts to schools. However, one of its main requests is that Gove should change the STPCD to enable 'freedom to save and protect schools'. In other words, teachers will be blackmailed into accepting cuts to pay in order to save jobs. Teacher unions must unite in opposing this kind of false choice – especially at a time when teachers are already threatened with cuts to child benefit, pension increases and a pay freeze.

Together, we must take action to oppose cuts to pay and jobs – and demand that the Government invests in public services and stops attacking those of us who work to provide those services. The parasitic finance speculators who caused this crisis, and who do nothing to provide genuine services for our communities, should pay for their crisis, not us.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Build the Week of Action Against Spending Cuts


Next week, the Government's Spending Review will confirm the devastating cuts that are to be imposed on Local Authorities like Lewisham.

Yet these cuts will fall on a borough which already has the HIGHEST NUMBER OF CLAIMANTS CHASING EACH VACANCY in the whole United Kingdom. For a borough like Lewisham with such a reliance on public sector employment, the council cuts will make matters even worse.

That's why the NUT, along with other supporters of the Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance (LACA), will be building two important events next week as part of the TUC's Week of Action against these cuts:

On WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 20th, at 7pm at Goldsmiths Students Union, Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance will be holding a public meeting on "How do we Fight the Cuts". Martin Powell-Davies, NUT Secretary, will be speaking on behalf of Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance along with representatives of anti-cuts campaigns from across Lewisham and other neighbouring London boroughs.

On SATURDAY OCTOBER 23rd, members of LACA will join the NUT and other unions on the all-London "No to Cuts" demonstration, called by six London Regional Trade Unions and marching from RMT's Headquarters near Euston to a rally in Bedford Square. It will be addressed by Bob Crow of the RMT and Matt Wrack of the FBU before marchers proceed to the SE Region TUC Rally in Congress House, Great Russell Street.

Saturday, 9 October 2010


Governors at Tidemill Primary School in Lewisham have just issued a consultation paper seeking support for converting to Academy status. But many in the local community - backed by Lewisham NUT - are determined to oppose this threat to comprehensive education.

The parents' campaign has already succeeded in winning this consultation - at first, the proposal was due to be pushed through over the summer without proper discussion. Now we have a chance to push the proposal out altogether - but only if we mobilise as much support as we can.

That's why Lewisham NUT are calling on NUT members and other colleagues to support the campaign by going door-to-door with campaign materials, petitions and model letters.

We hope you can help by coming on:
SATURDAY 16 OCTOBER 10.30 am  at Deptford Project Cafe, Deptford High Street - or, if late, meet campaigners on the stall in the market.
SUNDAY 17 OCTOBER 11 am Deptford Rail station, Deptford High Street

NAHT abandons SATs boycott

To the anger of some of its own members who had bravely taken part in the 2010 boycott of Key Stage 2 SATs, the NAHT's National Council have announced that they WON'T be balloting for any SATs boycott in 2011.

The NAHT argue that the boycott should be halted now that it has been offered a review of primary assessment by the new Government. It's certainly true that the joint NUT/NAHT boycott helped forced the Government to announce this review - but, without any guarantee that Gove will recommend an end to SATs, the boycott should have continued.

The NAHT decision puts the NUT in a difficult position. The overwhelming arguments against SATS remain, but the small proportion of schools covered by NUT Heads mean that a continuing boycott would only cover a few schools and Heads, along with Year 6 teachers, could fear isolation if they were to act alone.

However, there may be areas of the country where NUT Heads - perhaps in conjunction with disgruntled NAHT Heads switching to the NUT - could be balloted for a contining boycott. Certainly, the campaign against SATS must continue amongst parents too.

Let me know what teachers in your school think that the NUT should do now.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Hutton: Work for longer, pay more but receive less pension

THE NUT NATIONAL EXECUTIVE met on the day that the Hutton Commission released its first report. Our message to the Government must be clear - we are not going to accept any worsening of our pensions.

Firm recommendations have not yet been made - but the threats to our pay and pensions are clear:
Across Europe, Governments are pushing for increased retirement ages - so that we have to work longer, then have fewer years left to draw our pension. Fearful of the opposition this might meet, Hutton has not recommended any specific increase. However, this will be the Government’s plan if we don’t act.
Hutton’s ‘short-term’ recommendation is that we pay a higher proportion of our pay towards our pension - i.e. we take a pay cut instead of just a pay freeze!

But Hutton admits that expenditure on pensions “will remain close to current levels” based on existing agreements. In other words, it’s not that our pensions have suddenly become unaffordable. No, the hole in Government finances is down to the huge cost of paying off the bankers’ ‘gambling debts’. Our higher contributions wouldn’t be paying for our pensions - but to pay off their debts.

We must not let ourselves be robbed in the same way as many private sector employees who have seen their employers renege on pension agreements. Instead of allowing a ‘race to the bottom’ on cutting pensions, we have to stand together and demand decent pensions for all.
The Government has already announced that it will now calculate pension changes using the lower-rated Consumer Price Index (CPI) instead of the RPI. This change alone will cost a teacher retiring on a £10,000 pension over £35,000 over the course of the average retirement. This is just the start.

Hutton says he is worried about the ‘unfairness’ of the teachers’ ‘final-salary’ pension schemes - which benefit staff who are promoted towards the end of their careers - and wants to examine ‘career average’ schemes instead. If it was just a matter of making technical changes to recalculate pension payouts, then the pros and cons could be examined. But ‘career-average’ salaries need to be based on a realistic index-linking to take account of inflation throughout a working lifetime - not the CPI. So, if it’s not done correctly, a ‘career average’ could easily just mean reduced pensions in retirement.

He also complains that our pensions are “a barrier to non-public service providers ... and innovation in public service delivery”. In short, privateers want to pay less! Another reason to oppose Academies.
Hutton’s caution, in not making firm proposals, shows that he, and the Coalition, are not confident that they can force through these threats. They know that the last Government was forced to retreat by the threat of united trade union action - and we must make clear that we are ready to fight again!

If the Government detects any sign of weakness, they will push ahead with their pension attacks. We have to build our own ‘coalition’ of opposition - and prepare joint industrial action to defend pensions.

National Executive discusses threats to pay, jobs and pensions

With Hutton's first report on pensions out this morning, a lot of today' s National Executive meetings were spent discussing the implications of Hutton's Report - and how the NUT should respond.

There were also many other important discussions and reports, in particular on:
  • SATS - how do we maintain our campaign now that the NAHT have voted to withdraw their boycott action?
  • National Conditions under threat - worrying reports from several Local Authorities where centrally-employed staff are being told that there will be NO incremental progression up the pay spine.
  • Cuts - congratulations to centrally-employed NUT members in Islington who are being balloted for action to oppose redundancies and cuts to vital education services
  • Week of Action - both the London demonstrations on October 20th and October 23rd were highlighted in the General Secretary's Report
A summary of Hutton's report is posted separately

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Europe on the march!

I was privileged to be able to be part of the NUT's delegation to the all-European march against austerity in Brussels last week.

It was a fantastic feeling to be part of a 100,000-plus demonstration of trade unionists from across Europe - Romanian police officers, Hungarian military officers, masses of French and Belgian unions in their union colours, RMT flags and other British union banners ...

Now we have to build for a mass demonstration next year in London - as a preparation for united strike action against cuts and attacks on our pensions and public services.

The London demonstration on October 23rd is a step on the way to building that united response - I hope to see you there!

LONDON 'STOP THE CUTS' DEMONSTRATION - supported by NUT, UCU, PCS, RMT, FBU, NSSN and campaign groups across London:
Assemble outside RMT's Unity House at 11am,
March to Bedford Square, WC1 - speakers include Bob Crow (RMT) and Matt Wrack (FBU)
- move on to SERTUC rally in Congress House from midday

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Greenwich ‘Free School’ Plan – a Trojan Horse to help privatise schools

With Lewisham NUT’s energies focussed on persuading governors at Tidemill School in Deptford not to become an Academy, it was a shock to find out this weekend that a Lewisham NUT member has been in discussions with the DfE about setting up a free school just along the river in Greenwich.

Gladys Delphin, until recently a teacher at my own children’s comprehensive school, co-hosted a parents’ meeting yesterday to build support for her proposal for an International Baccalaureate (IB) School to develop bilingual education for 5-18 year olds. However, the meeting quickly exposed both the dangers and the contradictions in the ‘Nouvelles Racines’ project.

This group of French-speaking teachers have, I understand, been running Saturday Schools in the area for a few years. Frustrated by what they see as limitations on languages teaching in secondary schools, they have wanted to develop a plan for a bilingual school teaching IB programmes.

The Government’s ‘free school’ plans have suddenly presented them with a way to set one up with state funding – and of course help their careers too. Unfortunately, while they may think that they are ‘using the Government’, a number of concerned voices at the meeting, including myself, pointed out that it was the Government that were using them as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to privatise education.

Gladys’ presentation soon revealed how the Government were seizing on this chance to spread their dangerous ‘free school’ agenda. Nouvelles Racines were having weekly meetings with a DfE adviser, supported from the (pro-privatisation) ‘New Schools Network’ who had put them in touch with Nord Anglia. This particular edu-business ‘vulture’, circling to grab state-funding for their private interests, has, as was pointed out by another teacher at the meeting, a questionable record on equal opportunities.

The presentation also revealed that, as has been rumoured, that the DfE were promising to quickly change school premises regulations so that they would be able to set up the school in some kind of renovated premises, aiming to open it as early as September 2011.

The discussion soon exposed two major contradictions between the naive wishes of Nouvelles Racines’ founders and the political and economic reality under this Con-Dem Government:
• Selection. Gladys, Frida and the other proposers say they want their school to cater for disadvantaged bilingual communities. However, there was little sign of the local Ivorian or other French-speaking communities at the meeting. Instead, residents of the new homes along the river between Deptford and Greenwich, and white European parents from elsewhere in London, seemed more in evidence. Discussion was dominated by white middle-class parents demanding to know whether their particular bilingualism would be supported – French? German? Russian? ... When Gladys explained that the school would be non-selective, they started to complain – “but we can’t support the school unless we can be sure that our children will get in” ...
• Funding. The parents were promised class sizes of 20, expert teaching in a range of languages and fully IB trained staff. As another teacher in the audience pointed out, the figures just won’t add up in reality. Of course, even if the Government helps fund some of their activities and building plans, those funds will be stolen from other schools that will be having their budgets cut. They will be taking a Government bribe to help the Tories allow their big business friends - like Nord Anglia - take over education.

A free school is not the way to address the needs of bilingual communities. Far from helping reduce disadvantage, the plan will help the Government introduce a plan which the Liberal Democrat Conference rightly agreed will ‘increase social divisiveness and inequity’.

Other teachers in Lewisham and Greenwich may not be so willing to give the Nouvelles Racines teachers’ the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Because, while Gladys and her colleagues may see a ‘free school’ as a way to help their own careers, they are embracing a Government agenda that is designed to tear up all teaching colleagues’ national pay and conditions.

At least one of my points seemed to hit home – when I warned these black French-speaking teachers that this was the ‘politics of Sarkozy’. Let’s hope that Gladys and Semi start to realise how they are being used by a vicious Government whose policies are all about increasing inequality and helping big business, not disadvantaged communities.

That’s why I made clear that, while we wanted to keep up a dialogue with Nouvelles Racines, the NUT and others had a duty to organise opposition to their proposal – and we will.