Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Another school year comes to an end but the Tory attacks keep on coming

Protesting in Parliament Square tonight with the NSSN
Like so many other teachers coming to the end of another school year, I am looking forward to a chance to take a break and to recharge my batteries ready for the struggles to come after the summer break.

For too many teachers, their personal struggle will just be the ongoing battle to cope with excessive workload and the demoralising regime being inflicted on too many schools. To take just one issue, performance-pay is already biting, particularly in academies where employers are often keenest to make the most of the chance to impose divisive policies. Figures were shared with NUT Executive members today that showed that, in one large academy chain, fewer than half of their teachers were awarded progression to the next point in the pay scale last year! Those figures will only get worse – unless we organise to oppose PRP.

Regrettably, these kind of demoralising attacks mean that many teachers are leaving their posts - as yet another survey shows: ( Some colleagues will be leaving teaching altogether. So one ‘New Year’ resolution for September has to be for Local NUT Associations to work to build our strength in schools, finding new reps and organising collectively to tackle the unacceptable pressures on teachers and schools.
Those struggles can’t be left as isolated struggles either. To build confidence, they have to be part of a national struggle where members across a national union understand that they are fighting together as part of a united battle. So, a second resolution has to be for the NUT to develop its plans for a ‘National Charter’, setting out the key demands that we are seeking to win locally and nationally, and to then organise action to win those demands – across Local Authorities, academy chains and as part of a national dispute too.

Unless we act to win collective action, then budget cuts will only reinforce the divisive use of performance-pay and unrealistic targets to pile on the pressure until even more colleagues go under. Conference policy states that we should be pursuing national action over those cuts – and that’s a policy that mustn’t be forgotten.

Of course, the Tories understand that this kind of collective trade union action has the power to stop their plans to further cut and privatise schools and public services. That’s why they are pushing ahead with planned legislation ( designed to prevent that action taking place. The details published today show the extent of those threats. It’s not just that ballot thresholds will be imposed which will be very tough to reach through the home postal ballots that the law still insists upon – although that’s bad enough. The Tories have gone much further. Their plans include allowing schools to employ agency staff to break strikes and threatening to criminalise reps organising pickets. Unions will have to give employers two weeks’ notice of strike action and reballot members all over again after just four months. All of these measures are designed to throw trade unions into a legislative quagmire and to undermine the confidence of workers to take action. They must not be allowed to succeed.

The last NUT Executive agreed to back a campaign with other unions to ‘defend the right to strike against austerity’ including a ‘demonstration for union freedoms and rights around the time that parliament discusses the new anti-union laws’. This campaign has to be organised and built for urgently. A well-publicised demonstration outside Parliament, not just a low-key ‘Lobby’, must be organised at the very minimum. It should be part of a wider preparation for mass co-ordinated strike action against the Tory laws and their austerity plans.

The NSSN conference is organising a rally at the TUC Congress in Brighton on Sunday September 13th to lobby for that kind of action. It will be held from 1pm-3.30pm in the Charlotte Room in the Grand Hotel, 97-99 King's Rd BN1 2FW (next to the Brighton Conference Centre). Put it in your diary!

At the Education Bill Briefing in Westminster tonight
The other key battle that the NUT has to undertake is to expose and oppose the school privatisation plans legislated for by the Education and Adoption Bill. After supporting a National Shop Stewards Network Protest in Parliament Square tonight over the anti-union attacks, I went into Parliament to attend a joint Briefing that went through the proposed legislation. Speakers explained how it will be used to push even more schools into the hands of Multi-Academy Trusts and academy chains runs by big education businesses. Yet there is absolutely no evidence that these plans will help education – and why should they? Since when has privatisation improved public services?

What’s urgently needed is to get the anti-academy arguments out to staff, parents and students and involve them in a joint campaign to defend democratically accountable comprehensive education. That’s what the Stop Academies in Lewisham campaign has sought to do over the last year, so far successfully, in our battle to stop more local schools being turned into academies. That fight will be continuing again in September and SAiL will hopefully be able to link-up with national campaigns to oppose the Tories’ plans.

Last, but by no means least, as events in Greece are showing tonight, we need to battle politically as well as through trade union action, if we are to defend education and trade union rights. SYRIZA offered Greek workers the hope of a genuine alternative to austerity, putting forward a programme that went far beyond the pro-big business policies of much of the Labour Party leadership. Unfortunately, under the pressure from the banks and their political representatives in the EU, Tsipras buckled in Brussels. However, big business still has to reckon with Greek workers and their fighting traditions. The same processes, if at a different pace, will occur in Britain. We need to build on our own traditions of struggle and build political representation that will genuinely stand up for working people, in opposition to austerity, cuts and privatisation. 

... barring crises that I feel that I have to comment on (which is of course not out of the question!), this may well be my last post for a few weeks so, particularly teachers out there, enjoy the summer and get ready to battle again next term ...

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