Wednesday, 27 April 2011


1. To stop around £100 a month being stolen from teachers’ salaries. That’s a 50% increase in pension contributions on top of a ‘pay freeze’. We can’t afford NOT to take action.
2. £10,000’s more may be robbed from you over your retirement. Switching from RPI to the lower CPI will hugely cut your total income in retirement.
3. Yet more money could go in a new ‘career-average’ scheme. Hutton is cooking up yet more ways of cutting pensions. Action can warn him off.
4.You might be 68 before you can claim your (cut) pension in full. Hutton wants normal pension age to go up to 68 for young teachers, 66 or 67 for older staff. Could you cope with teaching over 65?
5. If you choose to retire ‘early’, you’ll lose £1,000s.  Retiring at 60 - or even 62 - would count as ‘early retirement’ so that you’d lose your full entitlement. The younger you are now, the more you stand to lose by the time you retire.
6. Our pension scheme costs are falling. This is just robbery. Hutton’s own figures confirm our pensions scheme is affordable. They just want to impose an extra ‘tax’ on public sector workers - when the bankers who got us into this mess still owe billions in unpaid taxes!
7. Most teachers are women - but they could be hardest hit. Women are most likely to have breaks in pensionable service - and to live longer too.
8. We have a good pensions scheme - let’s keep it that way.  If you’re feeling the squeeze already, don’t opt out of your pension. That just guarantees that you’ll retire in poverty. Instead, vote for action and fight to defend pensions.
9. The threat of action made the last Government retreat.  Joint campaigns in 2005-6 forced the last Government to withdraw most of its pension attacks.
10. Strike action can make this Con-Dem Government think again too. They are unpopular and divided. ATL, PCS & UCU unions are joining us in action too. Firm  united action can defend our  pensions.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

NASUWT leadership persuades delegates to stand aside from joint battle on pensions

Disappointing - if not unsurprising - news from the NASUWT Conference in Glasgow.

See report from 'Classroom Teacher' on

Saturday, 23 April 2011

NUT Conference votes for national strike action to defend pensions

“We would have got away with it, if it hadn’t had been for those meddling unions”.

I wasn’t quite sure why Scooby-Doo came to me as I came to the end of my contribution to today’s debate, but it seemed to fit the moment! Because the Con-Dems and their big business backers may have thought that they WERE going to get away with their vicious cuts -  but now they know that they are facing a force that can stop their attacks – the power of the organised trade union movement.

It was a privilege to have the chance to make the last speech at the end of the historic session of NUT Conference that agreed to proceed to a ballot for discontinuous strike action, likely to start with a one-day strike co-ordinated with the UCU,PCS and ATL on June 30. The decision of the NASUWT Conference will be made tomorrow – with rank-and-file delegates trying to organise to prevent their leadership succeding in persuading their Conference to hold back from action - instead of joining with us.

Of course, first the strike ballots have to be won. That’s why every delegate will be leaving Conference with a determination to get our message across to every school that we’re not going to accept having to pay more to retire later with less pension.

The motion was agreed with just two abstentions from New Labour supporting delegates who had sought to oppose a proposal calling on the TUC to organise a ‘one day public sector general strike’. Their speeches failed to gather support from all but a few delegates because most understood that unprecedented attacks require unprecedented actions – and co-ordinated national strike action is exactly what is needed to make the Con-Dems think again.

There are still plenty of debates to be had about the best action strategy to win the dispute. Conference closed debate before reaching an amendment - which I was to move - proposing that the NUT discuss with other unions about the possibility of further national strike action in July – and certainly more in the Autumn Term – and also to invite trade unionists and service users to build mass regional demonstrations on the first strike day. However, I hope that those mass rallies will still be organised on June 30th.

Another amendment from Oldham calling for rolling regional strikes was also not debated. While I have doubts about such an approach – as it could dissipate members’ energies rather than building pressure on the Government – it would have been good to have debated the advantages and disadvantages of such a strategy as well. However, in building for the ballot, teachers are also going to rightly want to have exactly those debates about what comes next after June 30 – and how best to escalate action to force the Government to retreat.

The Con-Dems saw the potential strength of the movement they face in the massive turnout on March 26. They’re already under pressure over the NHS cuts. Over pensions, they can be defeated if unions build a determined movement. We are facing real-life wreckers – not cartoon baddies – but, together, we CAN defeat their plots to make us pay for the bankers’ gambling debts.

As I concluded today – ‘we’re organising, the Government are wobbling, and we’re going to win!’

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

ATL Conference backs strike ballot on pensions

Great news from the ATL Conference - where delegates have backed a ballot for strike action over pensions.

NUT Conference will also agree for a ballot at its Conference next weekend. Come on NASUWT - don't stand aside! Let's build united action on pensions!

Press Association Report on:

Text of motion
That conference notes with deep regret the lack of any change on the part of the government to its proposals for public sector pension schemes despite a series of meetings between the government and the TUC. Conference condemns the following proposals for the Teachers' Pension Scheme in England and Wales and any similar proposals which may be made for the schemes in Northern Ireland and Scotland:
i. a pensions tax in the form of increased contributions in order to reduce the public spending deficit by £2.8bn, to fall disproportionately on workers paid between £21,000 and £45,000 including teachers, without regard to the circumstances of the schemes;
ii. the normal retirement age for teachers to rise to 66 and later to 68;
iii. the replacement of the final salary scheme by a career average scheme;
iv. the change of indexation method from RPI to CPI;
v. the exclusion of teachers in independent schools from the scheme.
Conference further welcomes the joint approach undertaken by ATL under the auspices of the TUC, and particularly with other teacher organisations.
Conference welcomes the participation of members in lobbying against these proposals, and regrets that reasoned argument has produced no movement from the government.
Conference instructs the executive committee to consider, as a matter of urgency, whether the failure of negotiations and the failure of reasoned argument now justify a ballot for strike action by members, jointly with other teacher organisations, in order to encourage the government to negotiate more flexibly.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Workload - teachers at breaking-point

Cuts don’t only hit those who lose their jobs, they leave even greater demands on those left behind.

Teacher workload was already at unbearable levels before the Con-Dems were elected. Under Labour, teachers were already expected to maintain the drive for ‘standards’ by working 50 hours a week or more. With the cuts, workload is set to get even worse.

It’s not just the cuts in support staff, advisers and increasing class sizes that are making the job even more demanding, it’s also the increased levels of management bullying. Like a factory-owner driven by ‘competition’ to speed-up the production line, too many senior managers are turning up the pressure on staff in order to improve their exam league table positions at any cost. However, teachers and children aren’t baked bean cans - and stressed teachers do not make good educators.

The Head at Whitmore School In Hackney - where NUT members have taken strike action to oppose excessive workload - even wrote to the TES recently to complain that “Yes, we are asking teachers to work hard, but surely this is the reason why we all entered the profession? Yes, we do work long hours; yes, we do make sacrifices to give children the best”.

So ‘for the good of the children’, should teachers have no right to a family life, protection from stress and the ‘work/life balance’ set down in our national conditions?

To make sure that staff can’t use even such limited legal protections to limit workload, the Government wants the School Teachers’ Review Body to recommend even “greater freedoms and flexibilities”. As Lord Hill’s letter on Academy status has shown, their real aim is to get rid of national conditions altogether. Safeguards such as guaranteed PPA time and limits to directed time could all be under threat.

But we shouldn’t just defend those limited gains. We also need to act on NUT policy to implement a National Contract that sets down real limits on workload.

With national action on pensions to the fore, there is a danger that workload campaigning will again be postponed to a distant future. But national action doesn’t only have to have one objective, or one sanction. The NUT will have to consider widening national action to include pay and conditions. As part of that, non-strike workload sanctions could also be included alongside national strike action.

Local action can also play its part in defending members against excessive workload. In particular, NUT groups should follow the lead of members in Hackney and elsewhere in demanding schools and Local Authorities agree to a work-life balance policy that can turn the ‘right’ in the Pay and Conditions Document into reality.

The NUT should draw up a model policy based on the one that was successfully won at Morningside School in Hackney. It should include time-costing of tasks and initiatives and enable teachers to use the need to maintain a reasonable work-life balance as a legitimate reason to limit the time taken on a particular task.

Of course, that victory was only won with the help of a strike ballot. Schools should be encouraged to follow the same approach, preferably in conjunction with other schools and/or as an Authority-wide dispute. We can’t let Heads bully our members. It’s time we imposed our will instead.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Sacking school staff on the cheap

'So you marched with us in London on March 26th, now you want to cut our terms and conditions, what kind of solidarity is that?'

That was the essence of the pointed message sent by one of the support staff unions in Lewisham to our Labour Mayor.  The hypocrisy of councillors marching against cuts - and then expecting their workforce to pay with increased hours and worsened redundancy payments - has not been lost on local trade unionists.

The Council say that they can 'save jobs' if unions agree to these cuts. Of course, the best way to save on redundancy payouts is not to sack staff in the first place!

Another Section 188 notice has just been issued by Lewisham Council notifying of a further 386 threatened posts - out of 3813 still left employed by the Council - that's over 10%. This figure excludes schools - but they are also announcing cuts to both teaching and support staff.

Three Lewisham secondary schools are going through consultation procedures ready to issue redundancy notices at the end of May. One wants to increase teaching loads from 21 hours a week to 24 hours! Another blames some of its deficit on a new PFI contract . Of course the contractors made sure that their payments were tied to RPIX indexing, not the cut-price CPI to be used for our pensions!

NUT members at the three schools have all requested urgent indicative ballots for strike action. This comes on top of a 321 to 36 vote (i.e 90% YES) in an Authority-wide indicative ballot of community schools to oppose any threat to worsen redundancy payments. Having seen the successful action in Tower Hamlets and Camden, Lewisham NUT will now be considering taking the same kind of action in our borough too.

As one NUT members asked at a school meeting yesterday, 'why should we pay for their mistakes with our livelihoods'?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Fukushima - the truth emerges

Three weeks on from the massive earthquake damage and tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima No.1 power plant, the true scale of this nuclear disaster is becoming clear.

The Japanese Government is under pressure to extend the existing 12-mile evacuation zone after radiation levels exceeding the internationally recognised limit for evacuation were found in the village of Iitate, 25 miles from the plant. Worrying levels of radioactive isotopes have been found in soil, water, milk and vegetables from the Fukushima region.

As radiation levels in surrounding sea water continue to rise, engineers have discovered a 20cm crack in a storage pit that is leaking highly radioactive water. Courageous workers – risking a swift death from cancer and radiation sickness – are trying to plug the breach with concrete. 

Radiation levels from the leaking water are at over 1 sievert (1000 millisieverts) per hour. Such a dangerously high measurement - as well as being a very serious health risk – also suggests that water must be leaking directly from the reactor – probably the damaged No.2 unit.

Even if all leaks are detected and stopped, the radioactive cooling water being pumped in will still need to be stored – and TEPCO are struggling to find sufficient storage space. UK papers also quote nuclear engineers as saying that it might be 50 to 100 years from now before it is finally possible to safely remove the nuclear fuel stored in the plant.

It is worth remembering how, in the days immediately after the earthquake, nuclear ‘experts’ all insisted that the situation was under control. However some critics – including this blog – realised very quickly that this would prove to be the world’s second most serious nuclear disaster - after Chernobyl.

What’s also emerging is the shameful way that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) ignored the obvious risks of a tsunami knocking out the vital back-up systems that could maintain cooling to its reactors and spent fuel pools.

TEPCO has consistently tried to hide behind the excuse that the March 11 tsunami was “beyond the scope of the assumption”. Yet Japanese media report that seismologist Yukinobu Okamura had warned TEPCO in 2009 that the Fukushima plant was situated in an area where a major tsunami had previously struck ten centuries ago.

Worse, in 2007, TEPCO’s own senior safety engineer, Toshiaki Sakai, estimated that there was a 10% chance that in the next 50 years a tsunami could strike that would overwhelm the plant. TEPCO did nothing. The station’s defences were only built to withstand a maximum 6-metre high wave. On March 11 a 14-metre wave struck the plant.

Particular concerns had also been raised about the design of the ageing General Electric designed Mark I reactors used at Fukushima. U.S. researchers pointed to the particular dangers from loss of power and the risk of hydrogen explosions when venting the reactors to relieve pressure. That’s exactly what happened in reactors No.1 and No.3.

Warnings had also been given about the need to have access to key gauges and instruments to be able to monitor reactors in the middle of a crisis. Again, the concerns went unheeded.

Unfortunately, none of this is really any surprise. Big business always looks to short-term profits first and puts the long-term future of the environment a very long way down its list of concerns. Having ignored the dangers of global warming, many capitalist leaders have turned to nuclear power as a solution. But the risk of catastrophic failures and design flaws - even in technologically advanced Japan – is unavoidable. Nor has any safe method for the long-term storage of spent fuel ever been devised.

The pursuit of profit bears further responsibility for today’s crisis. It has proved difficult to supply power from the West of Japan to the ravaged East, partly because the power grids are run on different ac frequencies  (50Hz in the East and 60Hz in Western Japan). This stems directly from the post-war US administration’s break-up and privatisation of the Japan Electric Generation and Transmission Company- in order to undermine the strong All Japan Electric Workers’ Union. See Immediate and longer-term effects of disaster

As that article from a Japanese socialist explains, as the immediate shock at the aftermath of the earthquake subsides, there will be growing anger at the way big business profiteers have put Japanese workers at risk – and how they continue to try and profiteer out of the misery facing those whose lives have been ruined by the consequences of the Sendai earthquake.

Internationally too, the Fukushima disaster has spurred growing protests against nuclear power, particularly in Germany. It is only international co-operation that can provide a way out of the failed energy and environmental policies of the world’s major powers.  Only international planning – based on a socialist future – can provide that solution.