Friday, 14 June 2013

Teachers have no choice but to to take strike action

Every teacher needs to know that we have no choice but to engage in a very serious battle. It is not just a battle for our livelihoods but for the very future of education.

The post-war consensus that high quality education was a vital investment for the future of society and that comprehensive education, run by Local Authorities, was the best way to provide it, is now long gone.

As Gove's attacks on GCSEs have shown, these real 'enemies of promise' are calculating that there is no point in providing education-for-all when society cannot provide job opportunities for most school-leavers. Why have a broad curriculum to educate critical thinkers, when they want  schools simply to teach most children to 'know their place' ?

Why have experienced, qualified, teachers when a compliant deregulated workforce that is hired, overworked, then spat out, is so much easier for them to manipulate?

Why staff schools with properly paid and valued teachers and teaching assistants, if it it gets in the way of your business friends making profits out of privatised education, as has been 'achieved' in Sweden ?

Of course, these attacks started under New Labour but they have been taken on with a vengeance by Cameron and Gove. They seem determined to get through as much of their neo-liberal agenda as possible before the next General Election, knowing that any future Labour administration is unlikely to reverse any of their cuts and attacks.

The attacks on pensions mean teachers are already having to pay more out of their salary for the privilege of working for longer.

Union dithering earlier this year has meant that the new Pay and Conditions Document has been imposed before we even take strike action. That could pave the way for schools introducing pay policies that will enforce Performance Pay even on the Main Scale. It provides a perfect tool for Gove to achieve his aims of lowering costs, dividing the workforce, bullying staff into taking on even more workload, while undermining trade unions and collective national conditions.

The ending of 'pay portability' could create a frantic 'race to the bottom' as teachers underbid each other to secure employment at the lowest salary. Already, I have heard of a Lewisham school trying to propose that a M6 teacher accepts a job for lower wages. Unless we fight firmly, this will become the 'norm' across education.

Emboldened by the delay in unions calling action, Gove has already announced that he also intends to claw back non-pay conditions as well. The Review Body will make its report in January, in time, if Gove thinks he can get away with it, to impose this next round of attacks by September 2014. It could mean the end of guaranteed PPA non-contact time and limits on cover. It could even mean the end to any proper limits on our working day and year if the '1265 hours' and '195 days' limits are removed.

Gove hopes to undermine our opposition by setting parent against teacher, rubbishing teachers in the press and putting out false information about our holidays and workload. However, if we go out and explain the reality of teachers' lives - and the reality of Gove's plans for education - we can win parents to our side. 

Teacher 'burnout' rates are already the highest in Europe; we already work some of the longest hours and shortest holidays; the constant turnover of staff in many schools is both bad for education and bad for teachers. 

Most teachers know that Gove's attacks have to be stopped. After all, our incessant workload is almost impossible to maintain already. But the question in teachers' minds is, 'can we stop these attacks'? The answer has to be YES !

If teacher trade unions organise a firm calendar of action, then we can burst the balloon of this shaky and divided Government. Teachers' strikes have enormous potential power because of the way schools are used to provide child-care for so many working families. We have to use that power to defend those families' education - and our livelihoods.

Our 2011 action did achieve some gains, such as the concession on the retirement age for the over 50s - but the sudden ending of the action meant that most of the pension attacks were carried through - and led to real doubts in staffrooms about whether Unions were serious in their opposition.

The delay in calling action earlier this year has also increased doubts, while giving confidence to Gove to step-up his attacks. We are now having to fight a rearguard battle to try and reverse the new Pay and Conditions Document and to win pay policies that at least give some level of protection.

However, despite those doubts in some teachers' minds, there is a growing anger and realisation that something has to be done, and soon. A calendar of joint NUT / NASUWT strike action has now been agreed, starting with the regional North-West strike on June 27th. That should - and must - be followed with further regional action in the Autumn and a national strike in November - and further action beyond that. 

If Gove refuses to budge, perhaps even going further by announcing major attacks on working conditions too, then we have to consider responding with a two-day national strike in 2014.

We need every member to prepare for a serious battle. That also means collecting for hardship funds and advising colleagues to put some money aside to pay for salary deductions on strike days.

We will need to be mounting local battles too over pay policies. Where possible, strike action should also be co-ordinated across schools to overcome the pressure and isolation that an individual school group can feel under.

Can we pull off such a campaign? Well, if we don't, just consider the consequences: a divided workforce where pay progression can be arbitrarily blocked; a regime where teachers bullied out of a school find they have to accept huge pay cuts in order to secure another post; teachers exhausted by even longer hours and greater demands. The job would become absolutely intolerable.

We have a stark choice. We can allow the Government to enforce a future of deregulated salaries, with no real workload limits, with rapid staff turnover making it hard for unions to organise - or we stand firm and fight.

Gove's plans will be terrible for teachers - but they will be terrible for our school students too. 

We have no choice but to act. If we act firmly together, then we can not only confirm to Gove and Cameron that we are, indeed, the "forces of resistance" but show that we can be the "forces of victory" for education as well!

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