Tuesday 31 May 2011

From Egypt to Spain - and now to Greece

The news of the mass occupations in Athens, Thessaloniki, and in the main squares of other Greek cities,  is another inspiration for workers and youth across Europe.

Here in Britain, the Government wants to increase pension age from 60 to 68 - while youth cannot find jobs. It is just as the Spanish youth in  Madrid and Barcelona exclaimed - "Grandchildren on the dole, grandparents in work".

That's why teachers and civil servants will be on strike in Britain on June 30. That's why we must unite the struggles of workers and youth across Europe.


Thursday 26 May 2011

Two more reasons to VOTE YES to defend your pension

1) MPs agree - they CAN afford to pay our pensions - VOTE YES

A House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts report "The impact of the 2007 -2008 changes to public service pensions" confirms what unions have been saying - that  there is no need for teachers to be paying in more for their pensions.

The Report says that: "Government projections suggest that the 2007-08 changes are likely to reduce costs to taxpayers of the pension schemes by £67 billion over 50 years".

In an NUT press release, Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, said;  “This report shatters the Government's case for further cuts in public sector pensions.  The Select Committee has confirmed the National Audit Office's verdict that costs are falling and pensions are affordable". 

“The Committee is right to criticise the Government for proposing further changes without even having considered what is affordable.  This is a policy based on nothing short of false assumption and spin”.

2) They want to destroy our pensions scheme - VOTE YES

The latest leaks about the Government’s plans for career-averages confirm that the NUT website’s pensions loss calculator figures - shocking as they are - are actually an UNDERESTIMATE of how badly we could all be hit:

This is what the government is now offering (thanks to Andrew Baisley in Camden NUT for the figures):

For a  newly-qualified teacher who goes into the profession at 23, doesn't take any promotions and retires at 65 on UPS3, the government say the average pay of a retiring teacher is £37,795 but their career average salary is £36,031. (Teachers who are promoted will lose even more.)

Current pension scheme for new entrants (1/60ths + normal retirement at 65)
Annual pension = £37,795 x 42 / 60 = £26,456
Government's best offer (Proposed worsening to 1/80ths + normal pension at 68)
Annual pension = £36,031 x 42 / 80 ‐ 16% (for retiring “ early” at 65) = £15,909
Government's worst offer (Worsened even more to 1/100ths + normal pension age at 68)
Annual pension = £36,031 x 42 / 100 ‐ 16% (for retiring “ early” at 65) = £12,727

In short: The government's best offer cuts our pension by 40%.   Their worst offer cuts our pension by 52%. 


Tuesday 24 May 2011

Work until you drop? - and no jobs for youth

While public sector unions prepare for battle on pensions, youth and school-leavers struggle to find jobs.

But the two struggles are linked. If older workers have to work on in their jobs until they are 68 to get their pension, how will young workers find employment?

It's not just a British issue. The youth of Spain, let down by the political establishment and the trade union leaders, have taken to the streets to protest about mass unemployment. One of their slogans is 'Nietos en para, abuelos trabajando' – 'Grandchildren on the dole. Grandparents working'. (Read more: http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5084 )

This French protestor made the same point:
So let's win our pensions ballot - but appeal to youth for support as well. In turn, let's support their battles like the Youth Fight for Jobs Jarrow March in October

Two victories against redundancies in Lewisham

Two small but significant victories for Lewisham NUT have shown how an organised response - and the threat of union action - can achieve success in fighting the threat of cuts and redundancies.

Today, just as a ballot for strike action was about to be issued to NUT members at Deptford Green School over the threat to issue a redundancy notice to a member in the Art Department, the school agreed that it would, after all, be able to redeploy the teacher internally. Previously, our demands to find continuing work within the school had been rejected.

This victory undoubtedly owed much to the impending strike ballot and the clear determination shown by members at last night's NUT school meeting to organise for an overwhelming majority for action.

This follows last week's news that the Council would be saving the posts threatened to be cut from the nationally-renowned Lewisham Early Years Advice and Resource Network. This follows a public campaign to safeguard this vital resource coupled with an indicative ballot of NUT members across Local Authority schools and workplaces which produced an 86% Yes vote in support of Authority-wide strike action.

There are more battles to come - including continuing threats to Children's Centres and to oppose the redundancy of an NUT member at another secondary school. Ballot papers are going out to NUT members at Forest Hill School this week but staff have already shown their support in a 60-strong rally held on Friday lunchtime which was well-publicised in the local press.


We hope these victories can give confidence to Forest Hill staff - and others - to stand firm to oppose cuts and redundancies.

Friday 20 May 2011

Staff Rally Against Redundancy


At 1.15 today,  Friday May 20 2011, staff at Forest Hill School,  Dacres Road, SE23 will be walking out of their school gates to hold a lunchtime rally in nearby Mayow Park to protest at the threatened redundancy of a teacher in the English department – who is due to lose his job at the end of the school year.

Staff are taking action to:
•    Stand by their colleague who is faced with losing his livelihood
•    Stand up for children and families who will see support cut by the loss of a member of staff
•    Oppose cuts being made while the PFI contract continues to burn a hole in the school budget

Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary of Lewisham NUT, said:
“Today staff are demonstrating their anger at a job cut that will damage education. Our students need more support, not less.
Jobs at Forest Hill have now been threatened for two years in a row. Staff want to know how many more job cuts are to come as Lewisham Council demands that the school cuts its deficit.
Pupils should not be losing support, nor teachers be losing their jobs, to pay for the costs of PFI”

Forest Hill Governors will say that the job loss is unavoidable because the English teacher is “surplus to requirements”. But, this year, those ‘surplus’ hours of teaching time have been used to provide additional literacy support by withdrawing  groups of Year 7 pupils from lessons. That hasn’t only helped those boys, it has also been a benefit to the whole year group by reducing class sizes.

The Council will be demanding much greater cuts in future so that the school can pay off its deficit. But Forest Hill is a successful school – its pupil numbers aren’t falling. Cuts can only mean greater class sizes, more job losses and less support for students.

It was Lewisham Council that encouraged schools to sign-up to a PFI contract and assured governors that the costs would be manageable. Now Forest Hill faces rocketing facilities costs that it cannot afford to pay. It is tied in to an expensive long-term PFI contract offering a guaranteed return to the private contractors - while school budgets face cuts.

While teachers’ pensions are being cut by linking them to the lowest CPI inflation index, the PFI contractors are guaranteed annual charge increases based on the highest RPIX index – charges which the school has to pay. It was the Council’s officers that were largely responsible for negotiating this contract – and it is the Council that must now also take responsibility for sorting out the financial mess that they have created. It certainly should not be students and staff who have to to pay for their mistakes.

Today’s action could well be followed by strike action by members of the NUT next month.

56 members of the NUT at Forest Hill will be sent a ballot paper from the National Union on Wednesday May 25th to ascertain their support for sustained strike action to oppose compulsory redundancies.

They could be joined in co-ordinated action by NUT members at Deptford Green School who are also being balloted on the same timescale over the same threat of a teacher redundancy at their school.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Career Average Catastrophe - VOTE YES!

The Guardian has printed shocking details of a leaked document revealing the truth about the 'negotiations' that the Government is offering public sector unions over the future of our pensions.


The key phrase in this leak is as follows:
"The models in the paper suggest that the [accrual rate] should rise to either one 80th, 90th or 100th, of the salary accrued for each year worked. It means some public sector workers would have to work ten years longer to get half of their average salary".

Hidden by technicalities, this translates into a further vicious assault on pensions. It would mean that the losses from the NUT pensions loss calculator – shocking enough for most teachers – are a significant underestimate of what is now threatened.

For now, if you manage to have pensionable work for 40 years, on the 1/80 accrual rate applying to most teachers, you can retire with 40/80 = half your final salary.

A switch to a career-average scheme on the same accrual rate would mean that you would only get a much lower career-average salary based pension in return. Figures given to the National Executive last year suggested that a career-average pension linked to CPI indexation might yield only around 60% of a final salary pension - a massive cut!

This could be offset by improving the accrual rate – so, for example, the civil service Nuvos scheme has an accrual rate of 1/43. Even this might not be good enough - figures given to the National Executive suggested a rate of 1/37 might be needed to avoid pension cuts.

This would have been the kind of approach that union negotiators would have been expecting - if not 1/37 or 1/43 perhaps at least 1/50 or 1/60 as a starting-point for negotiations on moving to career-averages. Instead, the Con-Dems want to make accrual rates worse, not better!

An accrual rate of 1/100 would be a double whammy of a lower career-average salary and a worse accrual rate. If 1/37 is needed to protect pensions under a career-average scheme, 1/100 would represent a pensions slaughter. Of course, they'll also be expecting us to work to 67 or 68 to get even this massively reduced pension!

Many teachers may not follow the technicalities but they certainly need to understand what it would mean - a further massive cut to the value of our pensions. It could mean pensions for future teachers being slashed to half of what we expect to retire with at present.

The Con-Dems are clearly out to smash public sector pensions. We are in for a serious struggle - and it is one that we have to win. But we can!

Wednesday 18 May 2011

I've voted YES - have you?

I arrived home to find the ballot paper from Electoral Reform Services waiting for me! 

"... in order to seek to persuade the Secretary of State for Education to withdraw proposals to worsen the statutory scheme for teachers' pensions" I'VE VOTED YES! 

Let's make sure that all our colleagues are doing the same !

(By the way don't worry about the phrases that we have to include on the ballot paper - thanks to the anti trade union laws - suggesting that strike action 'may be in breach of contract'. It may well be - because we'll be refusing to work on strike days - but we'll be covered by a legal strike ballot).

Tamil Remembrance Day Protest

I spoke today in Trafalgar Square at the rally organised to recall and protest against the brutal massacre of Tamils as the war in Sri Lanka reached an end two years ago.

Video here

At the time, thousands of Tamils marched to publicise the crisis and to demand that the world's governments acted to stop the slaughter. I spoke at the protests in Parliament Square and brought the issue to the attention of the NUT Annual Conference.

Now, belatedly, a new UN Report confirms the horrific truth - of the murder of over 40,000 Tamils and the mass detention of 400 000 people.

As a teacher, I was shocked to read the UN Report listing the crimes against children, the complete breakdown of schooling, of horrific injuries, psychological trauma and acute malnutrition.

But, when Tamils protested in 2009 across the globe, the UN failed to act. Only now are they admitting what took place. Big business politicians have always put their own strategic interests ahead of the interests of the peoples of Sri Lanka.

The MPs who came to address the square from all three of the main UK political parties made promises to the crowds - but experience should warn the Tamil community about relying on capitalist politicians' promises.

Tamils, and all of us who support the right to self determination of the Tamil speaking people, must turn to our own organisations - and the organisations of working people - the trade unions - for genuine solidarity.

Just as Tamils marched in 2009, trade unions in Britain marched in 2011 against attacks on our jobs and services. We know the best way to make politicians listen is to take action, which is why we will also be on strike on June 30 to defend our pensions.

Those same attacks on working conditions are taking place in Sri Lanka through the proposed free trade zones. Trade union organisation will be vital to oppose the oppression and exploitation of Tamil youth and workers.

But the trade union movement in Britain also has a proud tradition of fighting injustice and oppression. It also has the strength to get its message out to millions across Britain. The message from the rally today - and the demands for a full independent enquiry into the massacres two years ago - must be taken up by trade unions here in Britain.

I pledge to take up that message within the NUT. But Tamil workers must also go to their union branches and speak up about the atrocities that took place. They should feel confident that they will get the support for their colleagues if they call for letters of protests and solidarity from their union branches.

Let's work together to make sure the truth is known - and to oppose poverty and oppression here and in Sri Lanka.

Monday 16 May 2011

Lewisham NUT Briefing pledges to go out and win the ballot!

An excellent joint ATL/NUT briefing in Lewisham tonight laid a firm foundation for getting out an excellent ballot result in favour of strike action to defend pensions.

48 staff attended from a wide range of schools. There were a few issues to clarify - like what the pensions robbery meant for young teachers, how NASUWT members could join the strike action (by joining the NUT!) and about how many schools would close across the borough on June 30 (we thought most!).

Teachers agreed to take on the job of chasing up the vote in their schools - from both NUT and ATL members - and contacting other schools besides. 40 different school 'registers' were taken away by staff who promised to chase up the vote in those schools - which means that the NUT officers can now concentrate on getting in touch with the other 50 or so remaining workplaces.

When asked at the end of the meeting to show who was optimistic that they could get a good vote in their schools, everyone's hands went up:

Sunday 15 May 2011

YOU can help win the ballot

Need a powerpoint to help explain the issues? - why not download my version from the  Lewisham NUT website http://local.teachers.org.uk/lewisham/

Don’t just think about returning your own YES vote - make sure all your colleagues are voting too!

The National Union will be helping to encourage a big turnout with mailings, phone messages and texts. But there’s no substitute for personal contact.

Here’s a few ideas that you can try:
    Keep a register! Make a list of NUT and ATL members in your school.    Tick-off who has received their ballot paper, and who has sent it back. Keep on badgering until everyone has voted!
    Phone a friend: Remind your facebook friends, text and e-mail your colleagues in other schools, drop by at lunchtime.
    Sign the Pledge: Put a poster on your staffroom noticeboard and get everyone to sign-up to show their support.
    Bring in your votes: call a school NUT meeting to discuss why NOW is the time to act. If colleagues also bring  in their ballot papers, reps can also be sure that the votes have been posted.

Not got your ballot paper? CALL THE NUT BALLOT HOTLINE:  020 7380 6300

Pay More, Get Less, Retire Older? No way! VOTE YES!

The latest reports from the Bank of England about falling growth and rising inflation only confirm what the NUT has been saying. Firstly, cuts don’t help the economy, they make things worse. Secondly,  a pay freeze combined with rising prices means another squeeze on our incomes.

That’s one more reason why NOW is the time to vote for  action to defeat the government’s plans to make every teacher pay in more - to end up with a worse pension!

Remember, these increased contributions aren’t going to help pay for retired colleagues’ pensions – but are just an extra ‘stealth tax’ to help bail out the Government’s deficit.

The ConDems have already budgeted for the £2.8 billion that they plan to rake in from this attack on public sector pensioners. They’re not offering any serious ‘negotiations’. All they want is for unions to decide amongst themselves who will be robbed the most – and how much less we’ll get in return through an inferior career-average scheme.

Strike action is needed to make them think again.

NUT Pensions Calculator spells it out

If any teachers are in doubt about what they stand to lose, make sure that they log on to the NUT Pensions Loss Calculator on the NUT website: http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12872

What about holding your school NUT meeting in an ICT room so that staff can see for themselves?

The materials that will be circulated with the ballot papers will give real examples from teachers facing £100+ monthly pay cuts and showing the £100,000’s that will be stolen from their pensions over their  retirement if the Government gets away with their attacks.

These calculated losses are shocking enough. But news from the NUT Executive shows that, if anything, they are an underestimate of what we could lose.

More attacks coming – unless we act

With Hutton’s own figures confirming that the costs of public sector pensions are falling, the Government need to invent a reason for making us pay more into their     coffers. So they have announced a change to the ‘Discount Rate’ used to estimate the costs of our scheme. The details are complex but the intention is clear – to fiddle the figures to hike up our contributions.

The pensions loss calculator factors in the change from RPI to CPI and the proposed increase in retirement age. But the Con-Dems have another attack still to come. Hutton has also recommended a change from a final salary scheme to a career average scheme. This could make the attacks on our pensions  a whole lot worse.

For now, most teachers get a pension calculated on 1/80 of their final salary for each year of pensionable service.  So, if you manage to work for 40 years, you get a pension equal to half your final salary. Using a ‘career - average’ income would yield a lower pension – but that can be satisfactorily offset by using a higher ‘accrual rate’ than 1/80. For example, the Civil Service unions negotiated a career-average scheme that uses 1/43. But reports on the negotiations given to the NUT  Executive suggest that the Government has no intention of implementing anything as good as this. They may even try to make accrual rates worse. This wouldn’t just be pensions robbery, it would be assault and battery!

Be in no doubt, we are in for a serious struggle. June 30 needs to be a real show of strength. If the Government won’t back down, we need to be ready to go further and escalate our action next term with others, like the NAHT, then planning to join us in action too.

NOW is the time for action

The idea put forward by the NASUWT leadership that  unions should wait until negotiations are completed before unions start to ballot is, at best, na├»ve.  At worst, it risks allowing the Government to say unions are divided – when we need to show united opposition.

Fortunately, five other teacher, headteacher & lecturer  unions have agreed to issue the same united message – “now is the time to defend our pensions”.

But existing NASUWT members don’t have to wait for their union to finally ballot. If they sign a Direct Debit Form for NUT membership for 2012 they can join the NUT for free in 2011. Anyone joining the NUT right up to June 30 will be legally covered to join the strike action.

Making plans for June 30

First of all we have to win the ballot - and the Executive heard that nearly 200 different reps briefings have been held over the last fortnight or so to build the campaign. However, we also have to look ahead and make plans for June 30 - planned as the first strike day. There will be a big march and rally in Central London with the route and venue now under discussion.

Striking teachers, lecturers and civil servants will be marching to defend their pensions. We hope other Londoners will also come and join us to show their opposition to the ConDem cuts too.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Inflation on the rise - one more reason to vote for strike action

"Bank of England cuts growth forecast and issues 5% inflation warning"

These headlines in today's papers confirm two things:

1) The Con-Dem cuts AREN'T necessary 'medicine' for the economy - they are just cutting demand and making economic recovery even less likely - just as Ireland has already demonstrated. So let's take action to stop the cuts to our pensions!

2) With prices rising, but a pay freeze imposed on teachers for September, we're already going to struggle to pay the bills. But Hutton wants us to pay 50% more on our pension contributions (to then earn less pension when we eventually reach retirement at 67 or 68) ! For me, that's another £102 a month pay cut - log on to the NUT website pensions loss calculator to see what you will lose: http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12872

These predicted pay cuts might be even worse if the Con-Dems try to make higher-paid staff like teachers take more of a hit than other public sector workers. It's also clear that they want to introduce a 'career-average' scheme that is calculated to pay out far less to teachers than existing final-salary schemes. 

That's why teachers needs to be taking strike action THIS term - while the action is still able to influence negotiations. The NASUWT's divisive decision to wait until next term to ballot will mean that they could only join in with the ATL & NUT action in October at the earliest. That's far too late.

Remember, NASUWT members who want to take action in June can join the NUT for FREE as long as they fill in a Direct Debit form for 2012 NUT membership. Growing numbers of NASUWT members have already decided to do so.

Look out for your ballot paper arriving at your home from 17 May onwards - and let's get a massive vote for strike action to defend our pensions!

Lewisham NUT battling teacher redundancies

Lewisham NUT are battling to oppose compulsory redundancies to teachers in a number of Lewisham schools.

These include:
Two Visual Arts teaching posts being lost at Deptford Green School
A further Art Teacher threatened at St.Matthews Academy
A Teacher of English to be identified for redundancy at Forest Hill School.

There are further potential threats to teachers working in Children's Centres and in the LEARN Early Years advisory team - the union is awaiting the release of a consultation paper this Friday on the future of Early Years provision.

Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary of Lewisham NUT said:
"At a time when pupil rolls are rising in Lewisham, a loss of teaching staff means a loss of support for Lewisham's youngsters.

We are particularly concerned about the proposed redundancy at Forest Hill School. Forets Hill is a successful school. It's budget deficit has nothing to do with falling rolls. However, it faces substantial cost increases as a result of the PFI contract that was agreed for the new building. Lewisham NUT does not believe that pupils should lose support - and teachers lose their jobs - to pay for the costs of PFI. The Local Authority - who helped negotiate this contract - has a particular responsibility to act to avoid this redundancy of one of their employees".

Forest Hill staff met yesterday to pledge their support for a campaign to oppose the redundancy and the continuing threat to the school's budget. Unions are preparing a campaign of action which could include both strike action and action short of strike action.

Saturday 7 May 2011

All out to win the pensions ballot!

This Government may have hoped that they were going to get away with their savage cuts to jobs, services and pensions without a serious fight. They were wrong.

The massive turnout on the March 26 demonstration gave the Con-Dems a clear warning that they had better back off. A united national strike of teachers and other workers - with the threat of further action to come - will send an even stronger message !

Thursday June 30 - pencilled in for the first strike day - should see around three-quarters of a million - NUT and ATL teachers, lecturers in UCU, civil servants in PCS - on strike to defend their pensions. We also have to make clear that this could be just the start. If the Con-Dems won’t back down, we must escalate our strike action next term - with other unions like the NAHT then joining in too.

Unions should make plans now for local joint union rallies in the lead-up to the strike and for big regional demonstrations on June 30. Invites should go out to other unions and anti-cuts campaigners to come along too. We must explain that a victory over pensions can help give confidence to everyone else fighting against cuts to their jobs, conditions and services as well.

First of all, the ATL and NUT must win their strike ballots. Let’s win them with such a decisive majority - and with a solid turnout - that there can be no doubt as to the determination of teachers to fight this blatant robbery. Ballot papers will be posted to home addresses from May 17 onwards. Make sure you send back your YES vote straight away. But don’t just remember your own vote - make sure all your colleagues are voting too!

 Call a school union meeting. Why not hold it in the ICT room so that colleagues can log on to the ‘pensions loss calculator’ on the national NUT website to see exactly how much they stand to lose!

 Keep a register! Have a list of NUT and ATL members in your school ready. Tick-off who has received their ballot paper - and, above all, who has sent it back. Keep reminding everyone to vote until the YES ‘marks’ are all back in !

 Remind colleagues in other schools to vote too. Pop in to a nearby school; remind your facebook friends; send an e-mail, text or tweet - whatever it takes to get the message far and wide - VOTE YES TO DEFEND YOUR PENSION!