I was asked to speak to last night's meeting of Luton NUT to explain the need to take firm strike action against Gove's attacks on pay and conditions. Quite correctly, however, that discussion was first put in the wider context of the struggle to defend democratically accountable comprehensive education.
Howard Stevenson, from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, opened the discussion by explaining how teacher unions were one of the key obstacles in the way of the attempts by successive governments to introduce a privatised system of schooling where private investors can profit from public funding for education.
Howard correctly looked back to 1987/8 when, following the abolition of national collective bargaining, the Tory administration imposed its Education Reform Act. There were clear similarities with this Government's hopes to confront, then defeat, teacher trade unions, in order to then be able to accelerate the attacks on education. Chilling quotes from speeches by Cameron and Gove - about the need to take on and defeat the "forces of resistance" - helped to illustrate this clear agenda.
The proliferation of different routes in - and speedier routes out - of teaching are all intended to undermine the idea of teaching as a stable profession. Instead, the aim is to create a low-cost, compliant workforce. Howard pointed out that in some parts of the US, after similar attacks, the average length of time people stay in teaching is just TWO years!
In England, increasing pressures are already driving teachers out of the job at a rapid rate Reports from the Luton members revealed the same picture of bullying, capability procedures, and failing of Newly-Qualified Teachers that are found right across the country.
Making a point that I stressed later in the meeting, Howard explained how Performance-Pay was an ideal mechanism for exerting managerial control, deregulating national pay scales and undermining trade union organisation. In response, teachers had to strengthen their own organisation, particularly in the workplace as Local Authorities are increasingly marginalised by Government.
I was able to follow Howard by explaining how vital it was to prepare members for an ongoing campaign of strike action, including putting aside money to 'save to strike'. This could not just be a token show of strength followed by another retreat. We had to take decisive and ongoing action if we were to defeat these attacks on our livelihoods - and defend education from this onslaught.
Luton NUT agreed to do everything it could to support colleagues taking action in the North-West on June 27th and also to bring their banner and a delegation down to the march and rally in London on June 25th.
Discussion points included the need for united action across teacher unions, recognising the need to build a momentum from below that would mean that no union leadership could walk away from the action we needed to take together.
Luton NUT Officers, as in several others NUT Associations who were meeting this week, also confirmed that they would be holding a further meeting before the end of September where nominations for NUT National Officers would be on the agenda and that my name would be put forward for consideration to stand in the NUT National Vice-President election.
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