Friday, 31 May 2013

Thanks for the solidarity - Lewisham stands united

Lewisham NUT would like  to thank the many trade unionists, community campaigners, residents and youth, from across all sections of our community, that have made clear that they were going to respond in such large numbers to the call for a Unity Rally against the BNP outside the Lewisham Islamic Centre (LIC) on Saturday.

We are in no doubt that the size of the likely turnout in Lewisham, as well as neighbouring Woolwich, helped to persuade the Metropolitan Police to impose conditions under the Public Order Act instructing the BNP to move their march and rally to Whitehall.

In these circumstances, and although the NUT and the LIC had discussed the possibility of continuing with the rally to celebrate the unity shown, once again, by the people of Lewisham against those who would try to divide us, the Islamic Centre has decided that “after careful consideration, we have decided that the most responsible course of action to now take is to cancel the rally” on Saturday.

The NUT obviously respects this decision to cancel the rally and is asking that you pass on this information, and our thanks, to others who may have intended to gather in Lewisham on Saturday to show your opposition to the BNP’s provocations and to stand in solidarity to the Islamic Centre.

As the Lewisham Islamic Centre has stated: It gives us great satisfaction  to  hear that one of the most significant reasons that the  BNP cancelled their march was  because of the community concerns expressed by the communities of both Boroughs  … we believe that the coming together of so many different faiths, different races  and so many different sections of society to  unite with one voice declaring “you pick on one of us, then you pick on all of us” …  is indeed the real manifest victory.  The achievement is therefore two fold – firstly, the BNP march through our great Borough has been cancelled and secondly, the  action of the  BNP has reaffirmed the unity of the community within our Borough ,which has always been strong”

Lewisham NUT understands that there is likely to be a counter-protest against the BNP/EDL march in Central London that those that were intending to rally in Lewisham may wish to attend. However, Lewisham NUT and other Lewisham trade unionists will also be monitoring events locally tomorrow in case of any attempts to threaten the Islamic Centre in spite of the police ban.

We hope that all those that have come together to oppose the BNP’s attempts to build support after the horrific murder of Lee Rigby will maintain the links that we have built, strengthen our community ties, and work together to campaign for schools, homes and jobs for all, not racism.

Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary, Lewisham NUT                         Friday 31 May 2013

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Lewisham - don't let the BNP divide us

It was always inevitable that the BNP would try to build support on the back of the Woolwich killing. However, rather than demonstrating in Woolwich on Saturday as it was first thought (and a UAF anti-racist festival/demo will be going ahead at 12 noon in General Gordon Square, Woolwich), the BNP have now announced that they now plan to march (or take cars) away from Woolwich and converge on the Lewisham Islamic Centre (which is close to Lewisham Hospital) instead.

In these circumstances, Lewisham trade unionists clearly have a responsibility to organise a protest to make clear to the BNP that their racist lies will not be allowed to divide our community - and also to offer solidarity to the Islamic Centre.  The Islamic Centre has also called on support from a range of organisations for coordinating a peaceful rally against the BNP on the day of the march.

Final details have now been confirmed for a unity rally outside the mosque:
2 pm outside Lewisham Islamic Centre
365 Lewisham High St, by the Shell Garage near the Hospital

The text from the Lewisham NUT leaflet is written below. It can be downloaded from:
Don’t let the racists divide us!

The horrific murder of a young soldier in Woolwich has rightly been met with overwhelming condemnation. However, now the British National Party (BNP) are trying to use the understandable outrage at this attack to gain support. On Saturday afternoon, they are planning to march on the Islamic Centre in Lewisham. Lewisham has a proud record of standing united against all those who would divide our community. Join the protest to show the BNP that the trade unions, residents and young people of Lewisham are standing united against this provocative march.

Lewisham National Union of Teachers (NUT) utterly condemns the killing of the soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich. This was an appalling tragedy for the victim, his family and friends. Local residents showed great bravery in intervening to try and assist him.
However, the racist attacks in the days that followed must also be condemned. Amongst other attacks, three petrol bombs were thrown at a mosque in Grimsby and a fried chicken shop was smashed up in east London. These actions, just like the killing in Woolwich, are carried out by a tiny number of people who are totally unrepresentative of most people.

Racist organisations like the BNP and their ilk are trying to feed off the desperate conditions of poverty and hopelessness that exist in parts of Breadline Britain. When food banks can't keep up with demand, when there’s a shortage of decent homes and school places for our youngsters, then the BNP’s racist lies can seem to provide easy answers. But BNP hatred provides no way forward. 
In fact their divisive racism can only set back the struggle against poverty. Racism weakens the force in society that has the potential to defeat government cuts - the power that comes from a united struggle of working people, of all backgrounds. That’s why the NUT, along with other trade unions, organises to oppose the BNP but also to build united  action to oppose privatisation and cuts to schools, hospitals and other public services.
Lewisham has a proud tradition of standing up to fascism and racism. We need to show that unity again this Saturday. As the Lewisham Islamic Centre has rightly said, “the purpose of the march to conclude in our Borough and outside our Centre is to create discord, division and disunity”.

We must not let the BNP succeed in building support out of this tragedy. Let’s stand together and show the BNP that we will not let racism - or terrorism - divide our community. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Woolwich - stand together against all those who want to divide us

It's been a difficult few days in South-East London.

It was only while I stood near my home in Sydenham with other trade unionists on Wednesday evening, as part of a lively and united protest against fire service cuts, that it was confirmed that the news from Woolwich wasn't just reporting another tragic London murder story. 

As it soon became clear, this was a barbaric attack which would be seized upon by all those reactionary elements who want to use prejudice and hatred to try and divide communities. By that evening, the EDL were already parading through the middle of Woolwich. 

Schools, of course, have continued, as ever, to educate our young people and to seek to keep our communities together against all those who would tear them apart. I sent a brief message of support to staff at Mulgrave School, where children had been frightened by the events unfolding nearby them on Wednesday.

It should be be remembered that people in South-East London have a proud tradition of uniting together against attempts to divide them. I was just one of the many Londoners who, along with my relatives and friends, took part in the mass demonstrations which helped to win the closure of the BNP's headquarters in nearby Welling.

I think that the statement issued by the Greenwich Socialist Party (posted in full on sums up the response of many local trade unionists and socialists to these tragic events. Here are some of its key points:

"The unprovoked, barbaric and vicious murder of an unarmed soldier in Woolwich  is a horrific event which must have been profoundly traumatic for the people who witnessed it, and, of course, an appalling tragedy for the victim, and the victim’s family and friends. Local residents showed incredible bravery in intervening to try and assist the victim.
The Socialist Party completely condemns this attack just as we condemned 7/7, 9/11, and all similar attacks aimed at indiscriminate slaughter.
The attackers apparently claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, and in protest at the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the vast majority of Muslims will be as sickened and horrified by this attack as the rest of the population. The brutal imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which have resulted in the deaths of over one hundred thousand civilians, are not the responsibility of ordinary soldiers, but of the governments that took the decision to invade and then occupy.
Terrorism is a completely mistaken and counter-productive method of struggle. It was the mass terrorism of 9/11 which gave George Bush a ‘justification’ he could use to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq. 
One of the attackers in Woolwich called on the people of Britain to overthrow the government. It is the same government which continues the occupation of Afghanistan, that is carrying out terrible austerity measures on the working class of Britain. However, this brutal killing will be used by Cameron to try and bolster support for this incredibly unpopular, weak and divided government.
In the wake of this killing the racist thugs of the EDL have already cynically tried to use the event to whip up racism against all Muslims. From whatever section of society mistaken and damaging methods of struggle arise, the only way to combat them is for all working people – from all backgrounds - to unite to build a movement against racism, against terrorism, but also against the endless austerity of capitalism.

This is not the first time working class people in Greenwich have had to stand firm in the face of attempts to divide. Just a 2 minute walk up the same road is the Kings Arms pub which was bombed by the IRA in 1974. The community in Greenwich resisted those who tried to whip up anti-Irish hysteria at the time.
In 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered in Eltham just 20 minutes away. A mass campaign against racism was mobilised which resulted in the far-right BNP’s headquarters in Welling being shut down.
It is important now, more than ever, that working class people in Woolwich and the country as a whole remember that history of solidarity and struggle. We must stand united against any attempts to divide us in the wake of this tragic event"

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Free Schools: this is 'what's not to like' Boris

Boris Johnson, writing in today's London Evening Standard, attempts to portray opposition to Free Schools as some kind of 'left-wing conspiracy'. No, it's Mayor Johnson and his Government colleagues who are the ones putting ideology before needs. They are the ones insisting that the critical lack of school places in London has to be addressed through a patchwork of privatised Free Schools instead of through urgent investment in well-constructed and democratically-planned Local Authority community schools.

The Mayor, betraying the same lack of understanding of Victorian history as his Education Secretary shows over 'payment-by-results', claims that the Tories' plans to meet the estimated shortfall of 118,000 pupil places in London through 'Free Schools' compares to the school-building program in the capital at the end of the late nineteenth-century. 

Yes, the late-Victorian era saw major investment in school buildings, and other public services, not least the School Board buildings that still stand the test of time today. However, their politicians understood the benefit of investment in infrastructure and schools. Under pressure from a movement that first saw Labour and Socialist candidates winning election victories to School Boards, they also recognised the benefit of elected Local Authorities being able to control and plan those resources. 

Gove's 'Free Schools' come from a very different tradition. They stem from the neo-liberal politics of the end of the twentieth-century, when public services became just another source of rich-pickings for big business. These short-sighted bourgeois, represented sadly by both Tory and New Labour politicians, were driven just by a desire to make a quick return. Instead of reinvesting profits in production and services, they helped to create the speculative bubble whose implosion has led to the present continuing economic crisis.

In Sweden, one of the first countries to experiment with the 'Free School model', it has been shown to have had a detrimental effect on education and equality. [ See for example: ].

Johnson asks in the Standard "what is not to like? " about Free Schools. For starters, as in Sweden, they are schools where their owners will be allowed to declare a profit, so that education businesses can cut costs to make money out of children's education.  Instead of democratically-controlled planning of school places, Free Schools will create a chaotic and inefficient free-for-all of private providers. Instead of Government having to properly invest in the schools that our children deserve, Free Schools will also be allowed to open in empty offices and other inappropriate provision. If Boris Johnson really wants to follow the traditions of his Victorian forebears, he should join the NUT in insisting on proper investment in high-quality schools, not blaming Councils for 'red-tape' when they rightly question the appropriateness of some of the plans proposed by prospective Free School providers.

The Mayor tries to hide the truth of Tory cuts and penny-pinching by pointing to the extra £982 million in 'targeted basic need' funds being provided to help boroughs set up new schools. Yet, he knows full well that London Councils have written to Michael Gove explaining that the allocation is totally inadequate and based on a funding formula that ignores the high cost of land and building in the capital. 

London Councils estimate that they require an additional £1.04 billion if they are to provide the places needed by 2015/6. Against the background of huge cuts to Council budgets, this is a figure which simply cannot be found - unless the Government provides the necessary investment from central funds. Of course, instead of just complaining about the cuts, councillors should be joining trade unions and communities in a mass campaign to win the resources needed to protect and provide public services.

So, yes, 'Boris', it is high time to 'put aside politics and open the schools we need', as the Standard headline proclaims.  Instead of your ideological insistence on privatised Free Schools, London Councils need the funding - just a small fraction of the billions swilling around the City of London every day - to plan and build the schools we urgently need.

As Christine Blower said in today's press release from the NUT, “In many areas parents are facing rising class sizes and schools are seeing a return to portacabins in their playgrounds to cope with the unmet demand for primary places.  It is time for the Government to change tack and allow local authorities to open new schools in areas where there is a genuine need for new places with adequate funding from central Government.”  

Boris Johnson's article can be read on:

Monday, 20 May 2013

Ofsted - applying pressure, destroying lives

"Some teachers are paid too much for weak teaching" Ofsted School Report 2013

TV coverage of Michael Gove getting such a rough ride at the NAHT Conference last weekend will have put a smile on the face of many teachers and Heads.

It's no wonder Headteachers feel so strongly about Gove's attacks. When Ofsted declare a school as 'failing', the Head's job is often on the line. However, instead of standing up to this draconian regime, too many Heads try to defend their position by simply continuing the chain of bullying and piling pressure and demands onto their staff.

So, for example, while the NAHT are rightly lambasting Gove, they are regrettably also recommending a pay policy which accepts Gove's attacks on pay progression for mainscale teachers. Such an approach will only help Gove divide-and-rule in schools at the expense of education as a whole. It needs to be rejected.

Heads are undoubtedly responding in part to that all-pervasive fear of Ofsted 'failure'. They fear falling foul of the January 2013 ‘Subsidiary Guidance’ to schools, which, as I posted in February, asks inspectors to question whether Heads are linking pay to performance: 

Worryingly, it's becoming clear that this Guidance is now being applied by Ofsted. A recent Inspection Report that I have read on a primary school declares that 'leadership and management' is 'inadequate' because "some teachers are paid too much for weak teaching" and that "some teachers are overpaid even though they underperform".

These are political judgements, not educational ones. There is no educational evidence that linking pay to performance improves education. On the contrary, there is good evidence that it will cause division, demoralisation and arid 'teaching-to-the-test'.

If Ofsted is going to be used as such a blatant political tool to impose Government policy - including both privatisation and performance-pay - then unions must look again at whether a legal dispute can be launched that includes a boycott of Ofsted. 

Certainly, rather than imposing those damaging policies themselves, Headteachers should stand together with teachers and reject performance-pay. School staff should take united action to defeat these attacks and stand up together in the interests of our schools and our students.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Martin Powell-Davies to stand for NUT National Vice-President

The following letter has been issued today to all NUT Associations in England and Wales


We are writing to you to ask that you put forward Martin Powell-Davies, our Lewisham NUT Secretary, as one of your two nominations for the election for NUT Vice-President that will take place in the autumn.

Lea Bonnell,
Assistant Secretary, Lewisham NUT
Adarsh Sood, President, Lewisham NUT
Lawrence Stevens, Treasurer, Lewisham NUT

These are just some of the reasons why we believe Martin should be elected to this post:

Teachers and education are under severe attack. This Government is determined to drive through its cuts to pay, pensions and conditions so as to cut the cost of education. It wants to stop unions leading communities in a successful campaign to oppose its attacks on state education.

Faced with these threats, we need National Officers who will provide bold leadership and a clear strategy. As a respected Divisional Secretary and Joint Union Secretary for the last twenty years, Martin has shown that he has the skills, ideas and experience needed to take on such a key role.

The failure to take national strike action since 2011 has raised doubts amongst teachers as to whether the NUT is prepared to mount a serious struggle. Our pensions have worsened, a new STPCD has been imposed to accelerate performance-related pay, and now national conditions are under threat too.

As a member of the National Executive for the last three years, Martin has consistently argued that the Union has a responsibility to give a lead and call national strike action. Conference eventually voted against the proposal that our joint calendar of action start this term with a national strike. Martin helped lead that call but is now strongly campaigning for the action that has been agreed.

Martin is working closely with other unions to campaign for adoption of the NUT/NASUWT pay policy
. However, Martin understands that school-by-school action will not be enough and that 27 June must also just be the start of escalating action. As part of his campaign, Martin will be calling for the promised programme of ongoing action to be put firmly in place, and continue into 2014.

As NUT Secretary, as well as still being a practising science teacher, Martin understands the pressures facing NUT members – and officers
. He knows the relentless workload we face, made worse by imposed targets and nit-picking observations. That’s why, as a NUT Conference delegate since 1990, Martin has consistently and correctly argued for action to be taken on workload.

Whilst others have doubted the willingness of teachers to struggle, Martin has understood that, given those pressures, teachers will respond positively to a clear lead. As National Officer, Martin would help Associations to encourage and explain to members why we need to act boldly together.

Martin has already received the backing of the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) to stand in this election. After debate, his candidature was proposed and overwhelmingly endorsed at a LANAC Committee attended by delegates from 26 different Local NUT Associations.

We hope you can also endorse Martin’s candidature and nominate him from your Association.  

To download a copy of the letter, visit the Lewisham NUT website:

London NUT make plans for march and rally on June 25

As part of a week of action that could see the PCS union taking national strike action on June 26,  and then NUT and NASUWT members across the North-West Region taking strike action on June 27, London NUT Regional Council agreed to support a March and Rally for Education after school on Tuesday June 25th

The march will gather, as with last term's march (but this time without the snow!), outside Westminster Cathedral near Victoria station (not the Abbey!!) at 5pm

Initial artwork has been drafted and will be finalised soon but here's a sneak-preview:


LANAC Committee builds for the action we need to defeat Gove's attacks

LANAC’s Steering Committee meeting in Birmingham on Saturday 18 May marked another step forward in the development of the Local Associations National Action Campaign. The meeting brought together teacher trade unionists from Hull to Plymouth, Liverpool to Lewes, to share experience and discuss proposals as to how to successfully build collective action to defeat the escalating attacks on teachers and education.

LANAC’s agreed democratic structures give every affiliated NUT Association a vote. On Saturday, there were 26 delegates present, along with observers from three further NUT Associations. Those structures provide reassurance to Associations that LANAC’s decisions are properly based on the views of those affiliated. However, LANAC meetings are open to school reps and observers from non-affiliated Associations, and there were 40 people present altogether at the meeting. Affiliations had come in from a number of new Associations in the last few weeks, such as Redbridge, Stockport, Rotherham, Harlow and Bolton.

The first session, on “Building for June 27 and beyond”, heard reports from the North-West, where regional strike action will be taking place in June, but also from many other regions as well. Plans and suggestions made included:

·        Building for the calendar of regional and national action that has been outlined, recognising both the enthusiasm of the teachers turning out to rallies and local meetings, some for the first time, but also the doubts and frustration of some reps and members who understandably question how serious the NUT and NASUWT leaderships are in building a programme of action that is strong enough to defeat Gove’s attacks.

·        Continuing to push for the ongoing plan of strike action to be confirmed and publicised.

·        Building links locally with NASUWT members so they also put pressure on their union to maintain the battle after June 27 and beyond.

·        Confirming twinning arrangements between Associations in the North-West and other regions to send messages of support, perhaps delegations on the day, and to make direct twinning links between schools.

·        Calling LANAC meetings to follow the strike rallies on June 27 to allow teachers to discuss the next steps in the campaign.

·        Campaign work in other areas including public leafleting and local demos on June 25/26/27.

·        Linking the battle over pay to the linked attacks on pensions and conditions, making clear to teachers and parents that this is part of a wider battle to defend education as a public service.

A second short session, on the campaign to win acceptable pay policies, followed. During the discussion, encouraging news came from the nearby NAHT Conference of the Heads’ vote of no confidence in Gove. However, this was tempered by the knowledge that the NAHT pay policy accepted some of the worst aspects of Gove’s performance-pay proposals! Nevertheless, along with the clear divisions within the Government, it was another sign of the weakness of the Coalition and why, with a clear and determined plan of action, we could reverse these attacks.

There were some positive reports – for example from Leicester – where Local Authorities seemed willing to recommend policies that broadly protect existing pay progression and ‘portability’ arrangements. However, other Authorities were clearly planning to push ahead with DfE recommendations. The meeting agreed that we needed to make sure that Associations weren’t left to just organise isolated school-by-school battles which would be totally insufficient to defend the majority of teachers.  We needed to collectivise and co-ordinate disputes as much as possible. Suggestions included:

·        Writing jointly to Heads, Governors and Councillors to explain the dangers of PRP (an example of a letter from Lewisham ATL/NASUWT/NUT was circulated).

·        Proposing rolling strikes in schools who have adopted unacceptable pay policies so that, each week, schools are on strike across an Authority, to persuade the LA to step-in and recommend acceptable pay policies to be adopted by schools.

·        Warning Heads that school groups would request strike action if any one of their colleagues were denied pay progression

·        In line with advice issued by PCS on performance management to its HMRC members, calling on members to refuse to agree unacceptable numerical targets and to use appeal and grievance policies as part of building up a campaign of opposition.

·        Call on unions to pursue further the legalities of a dispute about the role of OfSTED given their clearly political role in monitoring PRP implementation and in bullying Heads and schools to comply.

·        Circulate model LANAC materials to all NUT Associations on these issues.

The third session, on building LANAC, reflected on the influence we have already built over the last year and reached a number of conclusions:
·    the next LANAC Steering Committee will be held in September, acting as an AGM to elect LANAC Officers last elected in September 2012, and a Conference in December to review the progress of the joint NUT/NASUWT campaign following the national strike action which should be taking place in November. 
·        LANAC will have its own office at the Premier Inn in Brighton for the 2014 NUT Conference and a block booking of 50 rooms, most of which have now been allocated to Associations (to confirm). 
·        We confirmed the existing voting arrangements (outlined above) although discussion could, of course, continue and any association could propose alternative arrangements in future. 
·        LANAC should produce a further newsletter, certainly to intervene around June 27th actions.

The final session discussed the elections taking place in the NUT in 2013/14. Events since LANAC had been set-up at 2012 Conference had confirmed that, the divisions over action policy seen at that Conference (and indeed in 2011), and in debates on the NUT National Executive, had continued.  2013 Conference had made clear that LANAC represented a definite trend of opinion within the NUT over calling national action. While we had narrowly lost the vote on our amendment, we had received substantial support. If we were to give voice to those views, and an opportunity for teachers to vote for them, LANAC needed to support candidates in these elections. These proposals made were:
. On the 2014 NUT National Executive elections, LANAC-supporting Associations should work together to support the re-election of those candidates seeking re-election to the NEC. 
. We would not oppose other sitting members of the ‘Left Caucus’ seeking re-election
. We would seek to strengthen the support for candidates supporting LANAC in areas where either there were vacant seats and/or seats where we could seek to challenge ‘Broadly Speaking’ members and that we should discuss locally to seek agreement on candidates and campaigns.
. LANAC should support a candidate for Vice-President and call on Local Associations to nominate that candidate.  This would, firstly, help increase the pressure next term to ensure that the calendar of action was maintained and extended. A VP supporting LANAC would also ensure that LANAC continued to have a voice in the discussions that take place on the NUT National Officer’s body. We would also be able to clearly back a candidate who had argued, and voted, for national action at Conference which may not otherwise be standing.

The points on the NEC election were generally accepted. A suggestion was made that, if possible, all candidates supporting LANAC should try and include a minimal set of demands common to all. 

However, some observers and delegates argued that it would be wrong for LANAC to call on Associations to back a VP candidate when LANAC only stood for a limited program that did not extend to wider educational issues. However, others pointed out that it was precisely our program of consistently supporting national action to defend pay, pensions, conditions – and education as a whole – that distinguished LANAC from other trends within the Union. 

There was also an argument that the decision should be postponed until a later meeting but it was pointed out that, the issue had been highlighted on the agenda in advance and, in practice, postponing a decision effectively meant deciding not to back a candidate for VP, given the timescale for seeking nominations – which had to take place this term or, by the latest, by the end of September. While Local Associations had to make their own democratic decisions about nominations, the decision of the delegate-based LANAC meeting also gave genuine backing to any candidate endorsed by the Steering Committee.

A vote was taken:

a)      For LANAC to support a candidate for Vice-President. This was agreed by 17 votes to 6.

b)      To support Martin Powell-Davies, the LANAC Convenor (and the only name proposed by the meeting) as that candidate. This was agreed by 18 votes to 7. 

LANAC will publicise all the points above in order to build collective action, strengthen the campaign to win local battles over pay policies, build the strongest possible response to the regional strikes on June 27, September and October, and to keep up the pressure for national strike action to be called in November – and beyond.