Wednesday, 5 February 2014

London shows that there is power in a Union

On the STEM6 picket-line
London's roads and buses were packed solid this morning as the 48-hour strike by the RMT and TSSA shutdown the tube network.

The press will undoubtedly try and whip-up anti-union feeling as a result of the action but I didn't hear a single complaint against the transport unions from commuters today. On the contrary, as I said when I spoke to a pre-strike rally outside Euston station last night, union action consistently gets strong public backing. Most people are suffering in some way from job insecurity, or are struggling to pay bills, seeing their services cut, or being put under pressure at work. So, when a Union stands up to oppose these attacks, they get support!

I was on a bus to get to the picket-line outside STEM6 Free School in Islington, where NUT members are also on a 48-hour strike today and tomorrow. Their dispute is simply to win the right to have their trade union recognised. It seemed that they had won that demand - until management reneged on a commitment made last week - resulting in today's action going ahead. The fact that students turned up today to find that only one single non-union teacher was teaching lessons is entirely the responsibility of management's refusal to accept a basic democratic right for their staff.

The picket-line was in good mood, boosted by the many messages of support that they had received via @TeacherROAR and from NUT Associations. They were angered by the 'dishonorable' about-turn by their management. Yet, it seemed that this was just the latest example of the STEM6 teachers finding they had been misled. 

As a physics teacher myself, I can see how these colleagues were attracted to apply to work at a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Sixth Form, despite its Free School status. However, they then found how these schools are likely to operate. They were given contracts containing unacceptable conditions - and without even allowing the right to have a recognised union negotiate improvements on their behalf.

Of course, of all the teachers to anger, provoking a dispute with teachers in shortage STEM subjects seems to be a tactical error! Let's hope that, now NUT members have displayed their strength in action, management will recognise the error of their ways. Meanwhile, STEM6 staff will be on strike again tomorrow and some of the pickets will also be attending a strike rally at London Met Uni where UCU and UNISON members are also on strike tomorrow as part of their pay dispute.

These aren't the only local disputes brewing in London. I attended a determined meeting of NUT and NASUWT members from Harris Boys' in Dulwich last night, where staff informed union negotiators of the changes they needed to see made to the demoralising observation regime at the Academy. Negotiations are taking place today which will hopefully make sufficient progress on these issues but, if not, the teachers were clear that they were also ready to take strike action.

The NUT has already given notice for strike action next Wednesday, February 12th, at Avenue primary in Newham where governors have agreed an unacceptable local policy that includes 'half-points' on teachers' pay-scales. This could clearly be used to ration pay increases for staff. Messages of support should be sent to the school rep, Louise Cuffaro at

At the RMT/TSSA rally outside Euston station
These local battles reflect the growing determination amongst teachers and other trade unionists to stand up against the management onslaught inspired by this Government's attacks. Now, these local struggles need linking together in co-ordinated national action. The NUT will shortly be announcing its national strike plans in March. However, as all of us who spoke from across a range of unions at the RMT/TSSA rally in Euston last night said, we also need to join those different actions together in joint action that would really hit the headlines and start to force this Government into retreat.

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