Sunday 30 September 2012

Call on unions to set dates for national strike action

Action ‘short of strike action’ is already achieving successes and boosting members’ confidence. But this now needs to be used to build strike action.

Where schools are imposing unacceptable appraisal & observation policies, the joint instructions rightly advise teachers to refuse to participate in the process. That could include telling observers that NUT and NASUWT members will be ceasing teaching and putting on a DVD or reading books if an observer arrives in their class!

However, if this doesn’t persuade the school to think again - and/or if Heads start to ratchet up divisions by threatening any pay deductions - then school groups must urgently request support for calling strike action.

Unions shouldn’t leave schools to consider strike action in isolation. NUT Associations like Lewisham, St.Helens and Coventry are already discussing building strikes co-ordinated across different schools - and these local strikes could be co-ordinated nationally to make sure that we really put the pressure on Gove to put back the previous statutory limits on classroom observations.

Indeed, if unions are going to win our dispute with Gove and the Government, then national strike action will have to be called - and it’s time to start setting those dates.

The NUT’s letter setting out its national dispute with the Secretary of State calls, amongst other things, for the end to the pay freeze, a national limit on classroom observations and national contracts that fix a maximum weekly limit to our overall hours of work. Those are the demands that can make sure all teachers, in all schools, are protected - and, as we must explain to parents, guarantee better learning conditions for our pupils too.

As well as improving pay and conditions, we also can’t forget our ongoing dispute to defend teachers’ pensions. We can’t afford to let this Government increase pension ages to 68 or more. Nor can teachers afford to see their pay cut again in 2013 - and then in 2014 - through the next hikes in pension contributions planned by Osborne.

We won’t defend pensions - nor win nationwide changes to pay and conditions - through local action alone - co-ordinated national strike action is vital.

Throughout 2012, Socialist Party Teachers, Classroom Teacher - and others  - have been arguing for further national strike action to be called. At Easter's Annual Conference delegates set up the Local Associations Network as a response to this failure to call such action. However, a majority on the NUT National Executive decided it was best to hold back and wait for joint action with NASUWT. However, for now, there is little sign of the NASUWT leadership being prepared to agree dates for national strikes. How long can the NUT allow the NASUWT to hold back action, particularly when other unions - and the TUC as a whole - has voted to support joint action in defence of pay, jobs and pensions this autumn? This followed a lively march in Brighton to lobby delegates, organised by the National Shop Stewards Network.

NUT Associations like Islington and Lewisham voted at their September meetings to call on the Executive to urgently talk to other unions about setting strike dates. East London NUT has circulated a petition for teachers to sign supporting the call for national action this term. 

So, as well as meeting regularly to review and build the ‘action short of strike action’, school groups and local associations - of both the NUT and NASUWT - should be sending in motions and letters calling on their unions to urgently agree national strike dates. 

Masses of trade unionists will march in London on October 20th to protest against austerity and cuts. Teachers must be there in huge numbers too - but let’s call on all present to follow up with joint action.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Local Associations Network builds for action

Delegates from 23 different NUT associations met in Leeds today – with apologies given from seven more – for the first steering committee of LANAC – the 'Local Associations Network Action Campaign'.

LANAC – launched after two packed meetings of NUT delegates at Easter’s Annual Conference – brings together affiliated NUT Associations on the basis of a founding statement agreed at our first annual Conference held in Liverpool in June. This statement included the following aims:
* To continue to work at every level in the NUT for the earliest possible return to collective industrial action in opposition to the attacks on pensions and for a calendar of action that can secure further concessions from this weakened Government.
* Develop a fightback on workload, capability and abuse of classroom observations at school, local and national level based on collective action by members, including both strike and non-strike sanctions, non-cooperation, defined limits to workload demands and spreading success.
* Seek to maximise the potential of the national joint declaration of intent between the NUT and NASUWT on action to defend pensions and jobs, and to fight excessive workload, local and performance pay, while working to ensure that the joint NUT/NASUWT initiative:
(a) includes joint national strike action
(b) clearly and explicitly addresses the issue of pensions and demands the re-opening of talks with government
(c) leads to the development of rank and file links between the NUT and NASUWT including across schools.
(d) is not used to justify further unnecessary delay in taking action alongside other trade unions seeking to build co-ordinated strike action.

(e) includes far more effective sanctions than those in the existing NASUWT ‘action-short-of-strike-action’

Delegates welcomed the fact that the last objective had already been secured, with the jointly agreed action instructions already securing confidence-boosting victories in schools right across the country. At last, teachers were seeing a chance to take back at least some control over their working lives. Delegates reported staff meetings being cancelled in Lewisham, ‘mocksted’ inspections called off in Islington, joint NUT/NASUWT deputations ensuring observation limits were adhered to in Liverpool, limits on reports being won in Hull, PPA being protected in St.Helens, cover for absence being highlighted as an issue in Leicestershire, ‘workload impact assessments’ being used to tackle excessive workload in Barking and Dagenham.

It was clear that we were just at the beginning of what could be a long campaign and that these success stories needed to be shared with other schools to encourage the action to spread.

While the action short of strike action was starting to achieve these small victories – and bring new reps and school groups into activity across the country – delegates also reported that teachers were rightly asking when the national strike action needed to defeat the on-going attacks on pensions, and to win lasting improvements to our national conditions, was to be called. Regrettably, there was, as yet, no sign of agreement on calling national strike action, particularly from the NASUWT leadership.

It was agreed to publicise model petitions and, in particular, model motions, for school groups and Local NUT Associations to pass, calling on the NUT Executive to urgently seek agreement for dates for join strike action with other unions including, if necessary, without waiting further for the NASUWT.

In the absence of nationally-called action, LANAC is, however, also keen to explore and develop the possibilities of locally co-ordinated strike action to oppose unacceptable appraisal and observation policies being imposed by schools and/or Local Authorities. This would also be vital to oppose the threats of disciplinary action and pay deductions that were being made by some headteachers. Coventry, St.Helens and Lewisham NUT Associations had already agreed to pursue Association-wide strike action if required. Those of us on the NUT Executive pledged to clarify Union policy on local strike action at next week’s national meetings, as well as to make clear whether strike-pay could be paid to members.

The only real divisions at the meeting arose over the attitude we should take to the meeting being called by ‘Campaign Teacher’ on November 24. As the LANAC Conference in Liverpool had mandated the Committee to call a further national conference of our own this term – to review the action campaign, the decision to call this alternative national meeting a week before our preferred date of December 1st presented obvious difficulties. After debate, it was agreed that we could best address this clash by agreeing to shift our LANAC conference to December 8th, hopefully to be hosted by City of Leicester Association.

However, the discussion revisited differences in approach that had previously been debated at the Liverpool LANAC conference, when a minority unsuccessfully argued that we should call our meeting in unity with ‘Campaign Teacher’, the publication produced with the support of the STA and CDFU groups within the NUT. However, as I argued today, while trying to campaign for our aims throughout the Union, LANAC has to maintain its principled position in favour of national action and to maintain our clear democratic structure, built on elected delegates from Local NUT Associations. Today, and at the June Conference, many LANAC delegates rightly pointed out that the position of ‘Campaign Teacher’ towards calling national action remains unclear. After all, too many supporters of Campaign Teacher had regrettably backed the decision to call off the national action originally planned for earlier this year – the decision that had given rise to LANAC in the first place.

The LANAC Conference in June had voted that, by agreeing that each supporting NUT Association was entitled to a representative on the Steering Committee, we would “ensure that the steering group is not dominated by any particular geographical area or political viewpoint but is inclusive to the range of associations supporting the aims of the network”. This inclusive approach was maintained in the election of the following LANAC officers at today’s meeting:
Convenor: Martin Powell-Davies (Lewisham)
Chair: Julie Lyon-Taylor (Liverpool)
Vice-Chair: Sally Kincaid (Wakefield)
Treasurer: Debs Gwynne (St.Helens)
Website Co-Ordinators: Dean (Northampton) and Derek (West Sussex)
Newsletter Editor: Patrick Murphy (Leeds)

Plans were agreed to circulate stories of local successes on the website and via twitter, and to produce and circulate LANAC leaflets to help build the action short of strike action campaign, while also calling for dates for national strike action to be set as well. Details of the December 8th LANAC conference will also be circulated as soon as the venue is confirmed. A provisional date for the next Steering Committee was also agreed for January 19th, probably in Coventry.

Small victories raise confidence

– but what about the Labour Party?

It’s good to turn on your mobile to find that your overnight voicemail message is not the usual desperate cry for help from another bullied or harassed teacher but a shriek of joy from a school NUT rep who has just achieved a victory!

This morning’s triumphant message was from a Lewisham school rep who had just read my email confirming that their ‘action short of strike action’ had achieved a small but significant victory from the very start of the new campaign.

I had informed the Head that on Wednesday, the first day of the action, NUT members would be refusing to attend that day’s staff meeting, as it would be teachers’ second meeting of the week – outside Union guidelines. Her response – the meeting has now been cancelled !

That’s just one example of the small battles that are being won as reps and school groups meet to confirm the action they will be taking. These successes will lift confidence to build for the bigger national strike action that urgently needs to follow.

But the question that dominated the two largest meetings that I attended last week was “what about the Labour Party”.

Yesterday, I was asked to speak to a group of over 100 Danish teachers visiting London from a further education institution taking all their staff away together for a study tour. What a contrast from the meagre ‘how-we-meet-this-year’s-imposed-targets’ training days most teachers in England have to endure! Indeed, it was a sobering experience having to explain to these colleagues quite how bad our education system had become.

But the most revealing question asked by a Danish colleague was “what do you think of the Labour Party – do you think they will make any difference?” The doubtful tone of his voice, and the discussion that followed, showed only too clearly that it isn’t only in Britain where teachers are crying out for a genuine political alternative that will stand up against cuts and privatisation. Many shared exactly the same doubts and disappointments with their equivalent parties in Denmark as many NUT members do with Twigg and New Labour.

Earlier that week, the same debate had taken place in Lewisham Town Hall’s Council Chamber. This certainly didn’t include any councillors – who had all stayed away that night – but was part of a discussion amongst trade unionists at a public meeting called by Lewisham Trades Council to build for the TUC demonstration on October 20th.

The discussion around building for strike action was led by Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, and there was overwhelming support for his call to build co-ordinated national strike action to oppose austerity.

However, the contribution from left-wing writer Owen Jones raised more disagreements. Owen spoke well about the need to reverse Tory cuts but then explained how he was working with a pressure group ‘CLASS’ to widen the debate within the Labour Party as to the way forward. As an article in this week’s Socialist (which Owen took away with him to read! ) points out, some involved in CLASS certainly have no commitment to socialist ideas nor even to genuinely reclaiming the Labour Party as a force to support workers’ struggles.

There’s nothing wrong with having that debate within Labour but surely Owen’s energies would be far better used campaigning for a genuine workers’ voice rather than in a wasted attempt to try and rescue a New Labour party that has long since cut itself off from its past.

As I pointed out to Owen, the lack of a real alternative is sapping workers’ confidence when they are considering taking strike action against cuts. Many wonder how much would be achieved by defeating this Government if a New Labour administration would then carry on with exactly the same attacks. (In case any more evidence was needed, Ed Balls made another pro-cuts announcement in today's Telegraph: ).

Of course, a Government elected on the back of a determined campaign of trade union action would be under enormous pressure to change course from the present pro-cuts consensus. But, unlike SYRIZA in Greece, there are no significant forces within New Labour who are calling for real opposition to neo-liberal austerity.

Owen has correctly called for Labour Councils to start to stand up against the cuts but, with a tiny handful of honourable exceptions, Labour councillors and MPs show no sign of waging that fight. When they do, as in Southampton, they are disciplined! But I pointed out to Owen that Socialist Party councillors like Ian Page and Chris Flood had led exactly those kind of battles – against Labour cuts – from the seats we were sitting on in the Lewisham Council Chamber. Electing fighting trade unionists and socialists like that will put more pressure on New Labour than any pressure group like CLASS will ever do.

Of course, some in the meeting did not agree with me – but many did. Owen has accepted an invitation to continue this debate at the Socialist party’s weekend of discussion, Socialism 2012, in London on November 3-4. I’m looking forward to carrying on the debate! See:

For an interview I gave to 'the Socialist' on similar issues, please have a look on:

Sunday 23 September 2012

Wilshaw will be answered by teachers' action !

Michael Wilshaw's insulting comments about teachers not working hard enough - backing up Michael Gove's plans to cut the pay of supposedly 'underperforming' teachers - are yet another reason for NUT and NASUWT members to take action together [NUT action will now start on October 3].

From the evidence of the meetings that I have already attended, many teachers are already determined to put the joint action guidelines into practice.

30 NUT members stayed on late on Friday evening at one Lewisham secondary (not rushing out of the door at 3 o'clock Mr.Wilshaw!) for a packed NUT meeting.

I introduced the meeting, explaining the threats we faced and our suggested 'checklist for action' (posted on the Lewisham NUT website on ):

1. Get colleagues together and fix a date for a NUT members’ meeting. See if NASUWT members want to have a joint meeting too.
2. Discuss the action instructions. Decide on priorities in your school and agree to act together.
3.  See the Head to inform them that members will be starting action short of strike action.

4. Ask when consultation will be taking place on new appraisal and observation policies. 
5. See if you can get changes agreed on the priorities in your school.
6. Call a further meeting to discuss progress and to confirm action you will be taking and/or requests to be included in strike action.
7. Keep the NUT informed at all stages.

The priorities discussed at that Friday evening meeting would have answered any claims from Wilshaw that our dispute is nothing to do with education. In London, with rising pupil numbers putting pressure on school places, class sizes are becoming a serious issue for students, parents and staff alike. Some tutor groups in this school had risen to over thirty.  

Under pressure to introduce further initiatives and observations to keep Ofsted happy, Heads of Departments were also being expected to ask teachers to use their planning and preparation time for individual meetings and observations. But, as several teachers pointed out, it meant that teachers were short of time to carry out their main task of assessing work and preparing lessons. These, and other issues, are being raised with the Head before the Union group meets again to decide on the exact action steps they will be deciding upon, backed up by the nationally agreed 'action short of strike action' instructions.

Yesterday, at a regional meeting for Socialist Party Teachers from the West and Wales, there was a detailed discussion about different aspects of the guidelines, particularly about how to make sure that acceptable observation protocols were being agreed. Dangers to look out for included objecting to unannounced 'drop-ins' and making sure that any in-lesson 'book-looks' were not being used to also record comments about the teacher's lesson. Where unacceptable policies were being imposed, school group[s should follow Union advice and approach the Union for support in taking not just non-strike action but strike action itself - which can be done under the terms of our existing ballot

Welsh colleagues reported that they understood that the UCAC teaching union were also balloting to come on board with our action - although not in time to start alongside the NUT and NASUWT.

But the meeting agreed that 'action short of strike action' will not be sufficient alone to answer the relentless attacks from Gove, Wilshaw and co., and that many classroom teachers know that too. A teacher from Worcestershire reported that an NUT Executive member who had not supported national action in March had been angrily questioned at a Regional NUT meeting.

We agreed that a date for a further national strike must urgently be set - hopefully alongside other TUC unions, building on the policies agreed at the TUC in Brighton. However, with the NASUWT voting at the TUC against calls for generalised action, we can't allow the NASUWT leadership to veto further strike plans. After all, NUT National Conference policy clearly states that "while recognising the clear benefits of joint action by teacher unions ... we cannot make the willingness of the NASUWT to take part as a necessary requirement before proceeding to call further strike action"

However, after the experience of the last year, teachers know that neither will a token one-day teachers' strike be sufficient to defeat this Government. The meeting felt that the NUT had to be discussing a programme of strike dates, perhaps building to a 48-hour national strike. This discussion will continue at the Local Associations Network Steering Committee in Leeds next Saturday.

Finally, with none of the main political parties backing the demands the NUT are raising in our national dispute with Gove - on pay, pensions, academies, workload and so on - we agreed that we also have to continue to raise the need for the NUT to use its political fund to support candidates in elections that will stand up firmly for teachers and education.

Wilshaw - using Ofsted as Gove's political weapon

" Let's break this chain of Ofsted-driven bullying, and stand up to Gove, Wilshaw and the rest of the educational vandals, by taking firm collective action ".

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, has outraged teachers with his insulting comments printed in yesterday's Times suggesting that teachers should 'work more or get paid less'. Angry replies have streamed in from teachers on social media, some of which are just too angry to copy onto this blog!
The message from Chicago

These two comments, posted on my facebook wall overnight, are typical of how most teachers will have reacted: "How many times does he do a full day's work then take work home until 10.30-11.00 and work weekends and holidays?"  and "Apparently 50-60 hours a week and having every weekend spoiled for months doesn't count as working hard ... Teachers are very dedicated, too dedicated for their own good at times, and this blatant attempt to denigrate us in order to reduce public support for our dispute is despicable!"

Wilshaw's attacks are indeed a deliberate attempt to denigrate teachers and to use Ofsted as a political weapon to scapegoat teachers so that Government can pursue its agenda of cuts and privatisation.

It is not only teachers in England that face these attacks from neo-liberal politicians and their apologists like Wilshaw. It is an international phenomenon. As the article posted below (!/2012/09/chicago-teachers-win-important.html ) explains, Chicago teachers also face - but are fighting off - the relentless arguments from Republicans and Democrats alike that "education alone is the key to fighting poverty and that, therefore, if poverty continues and grows, it must be the fault of bad teachers and their unions ... and that 'change' – any change – must be good".

Like the Chicago Teachers Union, the National Union of Teachers needs to go out to the public and expose the real agenda behind Wilshaw's and Gove's attacks - to break-up locally accountable, comprehensive education and to steal back the educational gains won during Britain's post-war boom. Far from teachers letting down working-class children, it is Gove and his ilk that are pursuing policies - like tuition fees, spending cuts and the abandonment of GCSEs - that will condemn many of our students to poverty and unemployment.

Teachers don't need to make any excuses or apologies. If it wasn't for the hard-work and dedication of teachers, papering over the huge cracks left over years when real funding has failed to match the rising needs of poverty-hit pupils, schools and students would already fail to make the tremendous achievements that they are producing. This is, of course, particularly the case in those schools in challenging areas that are most often in the firing-line for forced academisation under Wilshaw's oppressive Ofsted regime and Gove's imposed 40% GCSE 'floor target'.

Does anyone still remember Gordon Brown's broken promise to match spending in state schools with those in the fee-paying sector? The fact is that chronic underspending means that class sizes are too large and staffing levels too low - contributing to the excessive workload and the insufficient amount of paid preparation time during working hours.

If Wilshaw was really interested in working-class students, he would be demanding that schools are given the resources to recruit and retain more teachers - not making attacks that will demoralise and drive away even more teachers from the classroom.

In contrast to Wilshaw's insulting comments, very few teachers leave work as the final bell goes - many, too many, stay there for hours afterwards, neglecting their own well-being and their families too. Exhausted teachers also don't make good teachers either!

Schools aren't sweatshops. Why should it be the norm for any employee to have to put in hours of unpaid overtime - and then be threatened with a pay-cut if they stick to their contractual hours? Of course, the problem is that teachers' contracts in England don't sufficiently define our hours. That's why the NUT is campaigning for a model contract that sets down a clear 35-hour working week, including a minimum 20% non-contact time for planning, preparation and assessment during our working day - not on Sunday mornings!

Wilshaw's insults are answered by official publications that have to concede that, for years,  teachers have been consistently working over 50 hours a week and that workload is "by far the most important" reason for teachers to leave the profession. See for example: 

As the NUT's latest powerpoint to support our 'action short of strike action' points out, half of all newly qualified teachers leave the profession in the first five years of their career. What a waste of talent and training. What disruption this causes to youngsters' education. What a condemnation of the current system it is that, even in a recession, the working conditions facing teachers are so oppressive that so many young graduates can't face carrying on under the intolerable pressures we face !

We can't let Wilshaw get away with the claim that he made that “In last year’s [Ofsted] report we said that 40pc of lessons overall were not good enough ... and yet everyone is getting a pay rise. Hey! Something is wrong with the system.”

Even the December 2011 report on Ofsted findings from school inspections that Wilshaw is, in part, using to justify his attack reveals a much more complex reality. (

For a start, the report shows that only 9% of schools were judged by Ofsted in 2010/11 as being 'inadequate'. The largest proportion of schools, 40%, were categorised as being 'satisfactory', not 'failing'. But, to the report's authors, 'satisafctory' was not good enough - and they recommended the change to a new description of 'performing inconsistently' !

Now, every teacher would like their schools to do as well as they could for their students (although, rightly, not at an unacceptable cost to their own health and working hours). But Wilshaw is, for his own purposes, deliberately using the inspection findings to present a distorted picture of educational 'failure'.

But, even where improvements need to be made, what does Wilshaw suggest could encourage those improvements? Simply bullying teachers to work even harder is not a solution. The RSA report itself has to acknowledge some of the key factors that Wilshaw would prefer to deny, such as:

* The effect of poverty on attainment:

" The quantitative data from Ofsted, and comments in the inspection reports, illuminate the point that contexts are not equal, and ... this point is essential to recognise ... There is no doubt that schools in areas of social disadvantage face a range of challenges that mean they have to work harder to secure these outcomes. Occasionally, this point that circumstances of schools impact on outcome was directly acknowledged by inspectors, e.g: 'The school works in a very demanding environment with high student mobility, exceptionally low student skills on entry and increasing numbers of students who are at the early stages of acquiring English. This challenging context has been exacerbated by some instability in staffing caused by the long-term absence of several teachers. In the face of these additional pressures the school is coping admirably and on balance, provides students with a satisfactory quality of education and delivers satisfactory value for money.' "

* The damaging effect of 'competition' between schools:

" It may be that an Ofsted judgement of ‘Satisfactory’ actually increases the likelihood of individual schools succumbing to such a cycle [of challenging circumstances] Indeed, this would be a logical outcome of the ‘choice agenda’. Both teachers and parents that have choices are likely to select ‘better quality’ schools at which to work or send their children, and hence these schools are likely to attract those teachers and families that have little choice "

* The importance of teacher morale and the damage caused by Government targets

" It is vital to facilitate enjoyment and passion in teacher professionalism and development, rather than simply focusing on summative performance measures which can lower morale and hence impede progress ... "

* The damage caused by cuts to Local Authority support services 

" It seems preposterous that we have such good inspectors [their words, not mine !], but no equivalent organised supply of expert advisors to support improvement. This absence is especially stark given the dismantling of prior initiatives intended to provide aspects of such support"

Many Headteachers would recognise these factors only too well and would agree with demands for more funding and support, especially to schools in 'challenging circumstances'. However, they are caught in a chain of bullying from Gove and Wilshaw downwards that threatens their school, and their career, if they fail to do what they are told from above.

Ofsted has become the blunt weapon used by these Government bullies. So, for example, if schools don't adopted harsh appraisal and observation policies, Heads fear that Ofsted will be told to report them as 'failing'. Now, as Wilshaw made clear yesterday, if schools allow too many teachers to progress up the pay scale, again they will fear being 'failed'.

That's why the key to breaking this chain, and standing up to Gove, Wilshaw and the rest of the bullies and educational vandals, is for teachers to take firm collective industrial action. The 'action short of strike action' being launched jointly by the NUT and NASUWT, and the collective strike action that needs to follow, aren't just about protecting teachers. They are about protecting education as a whole.

As the Chicago teachers successfully demonstrated, if we get out and explain our case to parents and the public, we should be confident that our action will gain support.

Wilshaw may yet learn to regret his comments. His insults are just what was needed to fire-up England and Wales' overworked and, at times, unconfident teachers, so that, together, we stand up for ourselves and for education - starting by firmly implementing the NUT and NASUWT 'Phase One' action guidelines.

Chicago teachers win important concessions

An excellent article has just been posted on reporting on the outcome of the Chicago teachers' struggle. The achievement of what looks like at least a partial victory - although parts of the final settlement remain unclear - contains many important lessons for teachers in England and Wales, particularly how, despite all the attacks from the media and politicians, teachers' strike action won the support of the majority of parents.

Three key points to highlight are:

"It has been an important battle that has shown that the strike tactic, when based on a mobilized membership and community support, is still the best weapon labor has to defend the interests of workers and the public".

"One thing that is amply clear is that not only teachers, but most working-class people, now reject the arguments relentlessly pushed by the corporate “education reform” crowd that education alone is the key to fighting poverty and that, therefore, if poverty continues and grows, it must be the fault of bad teachers and their unions. They are also rejecting the connected argument that because of the very real problems in the public schools, “change” – any change – must be good. 

"The real reason why the CTU has gotten to the point where they are able to effectively stand up for themselves and their students is that a serious opposition group was built within the union several years ago, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) ... The new leadership has continued CORE’s work of building a real coalition between teachers and parents in working-class communities around Chicago. It systematically mobilized the membership for the decisive contract fight. In the process, democracy in the union has been revitalized. All of these are necessary conditions for preparing the fight now underway. The CTU’s approach also unfortunately stands in stark contrast to that of the AFT’s national president, Randi Weingarten, and the bulk of the leadership of the labor movement in the U.S., who seem happy to preside over endless retreat".

But the whole report is definitely worth reading - so here it is in full:

Chicago teachers win important concessions - prepare now for a further struggle to defend public education

Tom Crean, Socialist Alternative (CWI supporters in the US)

On Tuesday, September 18, after consulting with the union membership, the 800-person House of Delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted overwhelmingly to accept a tentative settlement, thus suspending the teachers’ strike in Chicago. The membership will now vote on the proposed new contract while at the same time going back to work.

The 29,000-member CTU went on strike on September 10, defying Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel and corporate America, which stands squarely behind him. They gave a magnificent display of what real unions are all about. Faced with unrelenting attacks against themselves as educators and against public education as a whole, they didn’t negotiate terms of surrender; they stood up and fought back.

Every day CTU members were on the streets in their thousands: on picket lines outside their schools and in mass protests downtown. Because they systematically developed alliances with the communities they serve in the fight to stop school closings and budget cuts, they had the support of the overwhelming majority of the parents of the city’s 400,000 public school students.

And last Sunday [16 September], the union’s House of Delegates gave a brilliant lesson in how union democracy works when they refused to call off the strike based on a contract offer that they had many legitimate questions about. Instead, they insisted on going to consult the membership on the picket lines before reconvening on Tuesday. Because it’s far harder to go back on strike after you have pulled the picket lines, it was correct to keep the pickets in place during this two-day period of consultation with the membership.

But apparently this was too much for Mayor Emanuel, who sent his lawyers to court on Monday to get an injunction based on the assertion that the strike was “illegal on two grounds.” Upping the ante considerably, he claimed that the strike was called over issues that teachers are not legally permitted to strike about and that it endangered the health and safety of children. 

At a protest outside Emanuel’s office on Monday, LeShawn Williams, a registered nurse at Jackson Park Hospital, pointedly declared, “Mr. Mayor, if you cared about the health and the safety of our children, why did you allow these schools to be closed down and our kids to be sent to gang-infested neighborhoods? Why did you allow the classrooms without air-conditioning? Why is the roof leaking? Why are there no full-time nurses and social workers in the schools? Why do classrooms have over 40 students?” It is not the teachers who should be facing an injunction but rather the anti-children, anti-education policies of Emanuel, who has threatened that class sizes may go to 55 students! 

What was this strike really about?

There has been a lot of commentary about the deeper issues behind the strike. One thing that is amply clear is that not only teachers, but most working-class people, now reject the arguments relentlessly pushed by the corporate “education reform” crowd that education alone is the key to fighting poverty and that, therefore, if poverty continues and grows, it must be the fault of bad teachers and their unions. They are also rejecting the connected argument that because of the very real problems in the public schools, “change” – any change – must be good.

These arguments are just a cover for the corporate agenda of privatizing education and union-busting. The “reformers” deliberately ignore the social crisis that impacts conditions in the schools and affects the capacity of teachers to have an impact. They seek to replace public schools with charter schools and use high-stakes tests as the basis for every policy decision, including whether to close schools, how to give teacher tenure, evaluations, etc.

Of course, we all want good teachers in every classroom. To put blame for the crisis of the public education on the shoulders of teachers, however, ignores the root cause of the crisis: a capitalist system that creates poverty and massive inequality. Eliminating poverty and inequality will require eliminating the social system which breeds these diseases.

Chicago was ground zero for education reform. It was the first city to introduce mayoral control of the schools 15 years ago. Eighty-seven percent of the city’s public school students come from low-income families; 80% are black or Hispanic. Now there are 50,000 students in charter schools in Chicago. Perhaps for them and their parents there is a feeling that education reform is working. Everyone else left behind in underfunded public schools has faced wave after wave of closings and has had to deal with the effects of growing violence in the city caused by the economic crisis. The support for this strike is showing that those whom education reform was supposed to benefit don’t buy it anymore. 

Democratic Party Exposed

Taking on the Democratic Party establishment in the form of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel weeks before the presidential election was a bold move, especially given the craven relationship that national union leaders have with the Democratic Party. This is especially true of the CTU’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers.

President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan like to claim to be pro-education and pro-teacher. But the struggle in Chicago has made it amply clear that when it comes to public education and fighting the teacher unions, the only difference between Democrats like Emanuel and Republicans like the infamous Scott Walker of Wisconsin is that the Republicans want to bust unions outright. The Democrats, instead, want to leave them as hollow shells that can still send them money at election time. Both parties have signed up to the union-busting/privatization agenda. As one Chicago teacher’s placard stated: “Voted for Obama, Ended Up with Rahm-ney.”

This strike posed real problems for Obama’s reelection campaign. The teachers’ unions play a key role in the get-out-the-vote effort for the Democrats, and if the strike had a bitter end, it could have caused real problems in a number of “battleground” states. On the other hand, the Democrats dared not alienate their corporate backers, many of whom have directly financed the charter schools and other aspects of the “education reform” agenda. Emanuel is now personally head of “super PAC” fundraising for Obama, targeting precisely these elite individuals.

It is absolutely true that it was Emanuel’s arrogance that laid the basis for the strike, but it is also true that the CTU actually chose a very propitious moment to go on the offensive, given that the Democrats had a real incentive to get this over with during an election season. 

Why the Strike Was a Success

In the broadest sense the strike was clearly a success. First of all, by daring to go on strike to stop the slow bleeding of their union by school closings and charter school privatization as well as demanding lower class sizes, more social workers and “wraparound” services, and even air conditioners in every classroom, the CTU has opened a new phase in the nationwide fight against corporate education reform. The strike helped to shift the public debate against corporate education reform, a process already underway. Also, by defending the public sector, the Chicago teachers picked up where the rebellion in Wisconsin against Scott Walker in 2011 left off.

Second, in the build-up to the strike and during the strike itself the CTU rebuilt the fighting strength of their union and created a new layer of activists in their ranks. These activists will not go back timidly to their classrooms but will fight relentlessly to enforce whatever gains were won in the new contract.

There has been a lot of talk about the role of Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, whose denunciations of Rahm Emanuel as a bully have made her a hero to teachers around the country. But the real reason why the CTU has gotten to the point where they are able to effectively stand up for themselves and their students is that a serious opposition group was built within the union several years ago. In June 2010, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) overwhelmingly won the union election and threw out the do-nothing, sell-out leadership that was prepared to continue the union’s slow march to the grave. As a result of school closings and charter school openings, the union has suffered a substantial loss of membership over the course of a decade.

The new leadership has continued CORE’s work of building a real coalition between teachers and parents in working-class communities around Chicago. It systematically mobilized the membership for the decisive contract fight. In the process, democracy in the union has been revitalized. All of these are necessary conditions for preparing the fight now underway. The CTU’s approach also unfortunately stands in stark contrast to that of the AFT’s national president, Randi Weingarten, and the bulk of the leadership of the labor movement in the U.S., who seem happy to preside over endless retreat. 

Assessing the Settlement

While many of the conditions for a victorious outcome were in place, the reality is that the CTU is up against not just one arrogant, delusional mayor, but the agenda of the whole ruling class in the U.S. The leaders of the CTU have correctly stated that there is no way that one strike in one city, no matter how effective or determined, can reverse all the damage being done by the corporate education reformers. This was one battle in a larger war.

Nevertheless, many CTU activists are correctly asking whether the outcome will really slow down the most dangerous aspects of the corporate agenda in Chicago and buy the union and its allies the time to build for the next stage of this fight.

In trying to assess the settlement that was adopted by the House of Delegates yesterday, we in Socialist Alternative are fully aware that there are a number of complex questions that we can’t fully answer yet. We have members in other AFT affiliates but not in the CTU; so we are inevitably trying to read between the lines on some points.

What is clear is that the union has scored some real victories in stopping aspects of Emanuel’s agenda. Emanuel made a concession in his plan for a longer school day, which originally would have meant teachers working 20% extra time with no raise in pay. Now, laid-off teachers will be re-hired to fill in the extra time. The union’s negotiating team also succeeded in getting merit pay taken off the table and in defending pay scales based on duration of service and educational level. They also stopped threatened attacks to the workers’ health insurance plan.

But it is also clear that job security and the new evaluation system mandated by state law are still huge issues. There are reports that Emanuel is planning to close up to 120 more schools on the South and West sides of the city (Chicago Tribune, 9/11/12). Let us be clear: if Emanuel succeeds in closing nearly a fifth of the city’s schools and replacing them with more non-union charter schools, it will be a decisive defeat for the union. The new evaluation system, driven by Obama’s Race to the Top Program, is also a key issue. It will be heavily based on test scores (minimum 30% according to state law; Emanuel wanted to raise it to 40% but was forced to back away from this in the new contract). The goal is wholesale firings of those deemed “underperforming,” and for them to be replaced by low-paid new teachers. If Emanuel succeeds in this, it will drastically undermine the union’s strength.

According to the summary provided by the union leadership, the new contract would create a hiring pool that requires that half of all new Chicago Public Schools hiring must be of laid-off CTU members. CTU members in closed schools will now “follow their students” to new locations, but it is not clear how this will stop the overall shrinking of the school system and the union membership.

The proposed contract keeps the proportion of the evaluation based on test scores to the minimum required by state law. It also includes a guarantee of no firing for the first year that someone is deemed “underperforming.” It also includes an appeal process for ratings, which did not exist before, but the experience of New York teachers should be a warning here. In New York under Mayor Bloomberg (another hero of "education deform"), where an appeal process has long existed, the number of successful appeals has dropped from 20% to around 2% in the last ten years.

These are serious concerns. While class sizes have not been reduced, it appears that class sizes are to be maintained at the present level. On an issue that will be important to many parents, it appears there has been only a vague commitment to hiring more social workers and providing other “wraparound” services if “new revenue” is found. 

Preparing for the Battles to Come

Since the detailed contract has not yet been made public, it is unclear what other substantial issues might be included in the contract.

But even a partial victory that allows the CTU to keep fighting will be an enormous achievement with national repercussions. Clearly this is just one battle in the larger war to defend public education in Chicago, nationally, and internationally. It has been an important battle that has shown that the strike tactic, when based on a mobilized membership and community support, is still the best weapon labor has to defend the interests of workers and the public.

It is essential that the CTU immediately prepare a massive campaign, building on the support for the strike, to demand a moratorium on school closings, substantially lower class sizes, and an end to mayoral control of the schools. This means re-dedicating the union to building support in the community. It also means further strengthening and expanding the activist base of the union.

But in order to win this larger battle to defend public education and to reverse the concessions forced on the union by Mayor Emanuel and the city council, the union must now step forward and politically confront the whole education agenda, which is backed by both major political parties. One crucial lesson, that is not being discussed, even by most of the left in the union, is the need to break with the Democratic Party. Trying to fight the thoroughly bipartisan attacks on public education while still tied to one of the corporate parties is a losing strategy.

It is essential that the leadership of the union begin now laying the groundwork to run independent working-class candidates on an anti-budget cuts, pro-public education platform. This strike demonstrates the potential support for such a step. By running independent candidates, the union could expose further the pro-corporate education agenda and organize that anger into a powerful new political force to change politics in the city. Preparation should begin now to run candidates in Chicago for mayor, city council, and the state legislature.

The CTU is in a position to point a new direction for labor. In doing so, they have a unique opportunity to build links with other public sector workers for the inevitable struggles to come. Next time it shouldn’t be just teachers that come out on strike: it should be transit workers, postal workers, and state employees, all of whom are under ferocious attack by the bosses. 

For a wider overview of the attacks on education in the US, follow this link to Tom Crean's pamphlet, "Save Our Schools  - The Fight to Defeat the Corporate Attack on Public Education":

Thursday 20 September 2012

Teachers prepare for a new phase of action

A report from Lewisham:

Across England and Wales, teachers are preparing for the start of 'Phase One' of the NUT's national action - action we have to take to oppose the Government's attacks on pay, jobs and working conditions. These attacks are, of course, also an attack on young people's learning conditions as well.

The action, being launched jointly with the NASUWT union, begins with a program of 'action short of strike action' starting on September 26th [24.9.12 update - now starting a week later on October 3]. A list of twenty-five separate instructions have been jointly issued. These are intended to allow teachers to come together and to start to take back control of their workload - jointly refusing to carry out tasks that are in breach of the national guidelines.

Already, stories of successes are being reported. For example, some schools have cancelled the much-hated 'mock inspections' after NUT and NASUWT members informed their Headteachers that teachers would be refusing to take part in them, protected by the YES vote in our action ballot and the joint action guidelines.

35 NUT members packed a Lewisham NUT Action Briefing on Monday evening to discuss how to make the action as effective as possible. School Reps were encouraged to set up urgent school group meetings to collectively agree the action points they will focus on.

Teachers know that it will take determined effort to make the action effective. However, everyone at the meeting agreed that we have to take this opportunity to stand up for ourselves and start to turn back the tide of ever-increasing workload.

Long after the meeting had finished, I found three young teachers still debating in the car park as to how they were going to build the action in their primary school!

On Wednesday, I attended two school meetings that had been immediately organised. At a secondary school, the NUT group arrived at a number of priorities for action. The school rep will now be discussing these with the headteacher as a matter of urgency. They included the number of meetings in the school calendar and a marking policy that could mean teachers marking books for hours at a time.

At a primary school, the immediate priority was over the threat from the new appraisal and classroom observation policies which Michael Gove wants schools to adopt. Teachers knew that the introduction of such policies would leave them demoralised and threatened by endless management observations of their teaching.

When I explained that Gove also wanted schools to be able to start cutting the pay of teachers who were deemed not to have met their targets, there was outrage. As one colleague rightly exclaimed, 'It's all about making us pay for cuts'.

The meeting agreed that representatives should urgently talk to the Head to try and persuade her only to recommend an appraisal policy to governors that is line with Union guidelines. I have written a letter to all Lewisham Headteachers setting out our objections and offering alternative policies and protocols that we would be happy for schools to adopt (posted on the Lewisham NUT website

We hope that schools will refuse to yield to the pressure to adopt the kind of draconian policies that Michael Gove is recommending. After all, why should schools implement the demands of a Secretary of State who, as the GCSE scandal has shown, is so clearly out to trash community schools and block opportunities for our youngsters too?

But where schools refuse to listen, action short of strike action alone will not be enough to defend teachers. That's why Monday's Lewisham NUT meeting also asked school groups to let the NUT Office know as soon as possible if they would support strike action in their school, as part of joint across schools in Lewisham where unacceptable policies are being imposed.

There was also unanimous agreement that we cannot leave this campaign just with action short of strike action - national strike action is also urgently needed.

We agreed to encourage all members to attend the TUC demonstration against austerity in London on October 20 – but to use that event to call on all unions to organise further co-ordinated action in line with TUC policy.

The meeting also agreed that we should write to the NUT Executive to call on them to:
* Urgently approach the NASUWT to seek agreement on dates for co-ordinated strike action in defence of pensions, pay & conditions.
* Write to the National Executives of other TUC affiliates seeking urgent discussions about co-coordinating the biggest possible joint strike action.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

GCSEs: Gove turns back the clock

"We are beginning to create aspirations which increasingly society cannot match … When young people cannot find work at all … or work which meets their abilities or expectations … then we are only creating frustrations with perhaps disturbing social consequences … people must be educated once more to know their place”  Unnamed civil servant, quoted in 'Thirty Years On', Benn/Chitty

Protest outside Ofqual in Coventry yesterday Sept 17 2012
All too predictably, Michael Gove has chosen to use the furore around this summer's English exams to announce his plans to ration the number of top grades and ditch GCSEs altogether.

As the quote below from 1992 shows, this attack from the Tory right has been being coming right from the very introduction of GCSEs. Like any exam system, GCSEs were still there to limit opportunities - but at least attempted to widen those opportunities to a broader number of young people. Now, with the economy in crisis, the Tories have decided that it is time to turn back the clock.
"The Tories present this in terms of a crusade against falling educational standards ... In reality, when Tories talk about doing something to improve standards, they really mean doing something to enforce greater inequality ...

In the summer of 1992, for example, they attacked the results for GCSE. Tory thinking is if results are improving, standards must be falling. Ironically, the relative success of the GCSE has been the very reason why many on the Tory right now want to see it scrapped... 

But it was the Tories themselves, under Keith Joseph, who replaced the existing two tier O level/CSE system with GCSE, arguing that it would lead to higher standards and better qualifications. However, at the time there was economic growth and staff shortages - employers wanted a qualified, educated (to a point) workforce. Now too many young people are being turned out with too many qualifications and high expectations but with too few opportunities. No wonder right wing advisers are advocating a return to O levels and "greater differentiation"  A Socialist Education Programme - Militant Teacher 1992

Tuesday 11 September 2012

GCSE latest - TES leaks and Welsh Government expose Ofqual

Leaked letters revealed by the TES - along with a decision by the Welsh Government to call for a regrading of English Language GCSEs for students that come under their jurisdiction - have increased the pressure on Ofqual - and Michael Gove - to come clean on the GCSE scandal.

At the very least, there has been unfair statistical manipulation of this June's English Language results. Many suspect political manipulation as well. As a result, our students and our schools have been cheated.

It is clear from the TES revelations ( ) that Ofqual DID intervene at a very late stage to pressurise Edexcel into shifting their grade boundaries.

In a separate development, the Welsh Government has reached the conclusion that "“it seems probable that a serious distortion to the outcomes of the candidates in Wales has been caused”, and that a 3.9 percentage point fall in outcomes for all grades C and above in 2012, when compared to 2011, “is unjustifiable and almost certainly unfair to candidates”".

As the National NUT press release this morning correctly states:

“It is glaringly obvious from this exchange of letters that Ofqual has been less than transparent about its involvement in this year’s GCSE scandal.

“The letters reveal that Ofqual was trying to ration qualifications on the basis of the SATs tests that the students took five years ago. This is tantamount to saying that education does not matter. Michael Gove’s policy of setting a floor target that requires 40% of children to grade A*-C, and his position of supporting Ofqual in stopping any increase in the number of grade Cs, are in direct contradiction.

“Young people and teachers have been cheated by an examination system which is becoming subject to political influence regardless of the consequences. It is not just Glenys Stacey, head of Ofqual, with answers to give at this week’s Education Select Committee. Michael Gove can no longer be allowed to stand on the sidelines. It is high time he took the lead by the Welsh Government. He must do the right thing by students in England by ordering a re-grading of this year’s GCSE English examinations.”

Sunday 9 September 2012

Trade unionists call on TUC to name next strike date

This afternoon, hundreds of trade unionists marched to lobby the Trades Union Congress in Brighton, coming from right across the country to support the event organised by the National Shop Stewards Network. The main demand of the Lobby was to call for co-ordinated strike action and for unions to act together and call a 24 hour General Strike.

At the packed NSSN rally, Mark Serwotka made clear that the PCS would call its members out on national strike action if the teaching unions named the day for another national strike. 

Bob Crow from the RMT explained that he would be seconding a motion from the POA calling on the TUC to make plans for a General Strike. The General Council had been spilt 16-16 at its earlier meeting to consider voting recommendations on the POA motion - but with UNISON still undecided. To cheers, it was announced that the UNISON delegation had voted to back this motion - so listen out for more news from Brighton!

UPDATE 11.9.12: The POA motion calling for "coordinated action where possible with far reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike" was overwhelmingly passed with the NUT amongst the majority of TUC delegates voting in favour. Unfortunately, the NASUWT not only voted against, but also spoke against the motion. In essence, as far as I can see from reports, the NASUWT General Secretary argued that a serious campaign of strike action would lose teachers public support. This is not only wrong, it raises real concerns about the seriousness with which the NASUWT leadership takes the idea of agreeing dates with the NUT for a programme of co-ordinated strike action. Rank-and-file members of both unions urgently need to keep up the pressure for unions to set a date for joint national strike action.

See further reports on the NSSN website:

Saturday 8 September 2012


THIS GOVERNMENT is going all-out to hound and demoralise teachers and to attack our pay, conditions, jobs and pensions. 

Not content with trying to increase our pension ages to 68 or more, they want schools to adopt policies that would fast-track teachers onto formal capability procedures and allow unlimited lesson observations.

On top of a pay freeze, we also face 'pay-cuts-by-performance'. Gove wants appraisal judgements and new ‘Teachers’ Standards’ to be used to block pay-rises - or even to kick teachers down the pay scale! 

As the scandal over GCSE grading has shown, the standards that teachers and schools are judged against are also open to political manipulation too. We face a Government intent on blocking opportunities for our students, trashing teachers, cutting our pay and pensions, attacking union facilities and widening school privatisation.

But, after the NUT ballot, the key message to tell our colleagues is: "it doesn't have to be this way!". The ballot result gives teachers the chance to stand up for ourselves and for education. We must make sure we seize that chance.

The NUT and NASUWT, making up 85% of teachers in England and Wales, will be releasing common advice to members about ‘action short of strike action’. The NUT will be issuing notice to employers so its members can legally begin this action from September 26 onwards. For details of the action advice follow this link to the NUT national website:

Members of both unions will be issued with jointly agreed instructions covering a range of actions intended to enforce union objectives, such as:
  • APPRAISAL and PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT policies must be in line with the latest NUT/NASUWT checklist - e.g fixing a maximum of three objectives 
  • OBSERVATION PROTOCOLS must be in line with the NUT/NASUWT checklist - e.g all observers to have QTS and no more than three observations a year
  • NEW INITIATIVES and POLICIES must be workload impact assessed and agreed to by union reps
  • LESSON PLANS should not be submitted to the senior management team - planning should be to help teachers teach, not for managers to monitor us!
  • COVER: teachers should not be covering for absence
Collective ‘non-strike’ action to enforce these objectives could let teachers take back control of their workload at last. But experienced union reps will know that these kinds of actions take determined effort. Above all, to succeed, they need colleagues to stick together. 

That’s why it’s vital that NUT and NASUWT members meet together in schools to discuss union advice and to plan ahead for the action in their school, encouraging every member to take part. Regular local reps’ meetings, comparing experiences across schools, will also be vital.

The immediate battles may well be around appraisal and observation policies. Where schools are imposing unacceptable policies, strike action is the best response. 

NUT school reps have already been told that: "The NUT is currently in dispute with the Secretary of State and, in Wales, the Minister for Education. In part this dispute is about the failure to negotiate a satisfactory system of appraisal and observation with sufficient protections … members will be supported in refusing to cooperate with all aspects of a schools appraisal policy if it does not meet the terms of the joint NUT/NASUWT checklist and observation protocol. Where schools continue to refuse to adopt [those] provisions … the NUT and NASUWT will issue, in accordance with required legislative procedures, a notice to the employer, to take further action".

Where Local Authorities are ignoring union protocols, we need to be urgently discussing about escalating action to coordinated strike action in line with NUT advice.

But, alongside this localised action, we also need to call national strike action. That’s what really hits the headlines and puts the Government under pressure. It also most easily unites members from across different schools and regions - from the best-organised through to those that perhaps are not yet confident to act. The NUT has been talking to the NASUWT about national strikes but nothing yet has been agreed. Members of both unions need to demand dates are set for this term. Discussions about co-ordinating national action should also be held with unions like the PCS - and others like the firefighters and prison officers who have recently voted to reject the Government’s pensions proposals. 

Trade unionists must mass together from across the country on 20 October at the TUC march in London. The NUT have asked that ‘68 is too late’ is a key slogan on the day. But classroom teachers must make sure this isn’t just a day to ‘let off steam’. It has to be a springboard to rebuilding united national strike action.