Sunday 21 July 2013

Solidarity with the South African mineworkers

The international news from South Africa is focusing on the poor health of Nelson Mandela.  Regrettably, for the overwhelming majority of South Africa's workers, youth and poor, today's ANC Government no longer stands for freedom but for corruption and continuing poverty.

The reality of today's South Africa was brought shockingly to the world's attention by the Marikana massacre of 36 striking miners shot down in cold blood by the police almost 12 months ago. This was a calculated attempt to break the Lonmin miners' resistance and to defend the super-profits of the mining companies - but they failed.

The miners maintained and spread their action across the mining industry and succeeded in winning a significant pay - rise.

That victory was based on the leadership offered by an unofficial national mineworkers' committee of representatives elected from each mine, organised independently of the official NUM union who are now seen as being a tool of the employers.

I had the chance to meet an organiser of that committee today at a meeting in Belgium. I was able to tell him about the £300 for the South African Miners Fund that I raised on my sponsored  solidarity cycle-ride to the event. It's a small contribution but one that was appreciated (and there's time to pledge more of course!)

Their struggle is far from over. 'Retrenchments' or cuts and redundancies are now being threatened despite the massive profits made by the mineowners from the labour of the workers who have to endure life in squatter camps with no electricity or sanitation.  This is in part a reflection of growing economic pressures as demand for raw materials shrinks from a world economy in crisis. It is also an opportunity for the bosses to try and seize back what they were forced to give to the miners and their families.

What's clear is that the economic and political struggles will continue. Abandoned by the ANC, the miners and other workers have also taken the initiative to launch their own party, WASP, the Workers and Socialist Party, to challenge the ANC in next year's General Election.

The heroism and determination of South African workers that attracted so much international support in the time of the struggles against apartheid have not gone away. Once again, trade unionists across the globe must give them our support and solidarity.

To donate, send cheques to 'South African Miners Fund' c/o Lewisham NUT Office, Town Hall, London, SE6 4RU.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Does every child still matter ?

A report from the 2013 National Education Conference

This weekend, the NUT’s National Education Conference is meeting over a glorious weekend in the even more glorious surroundings of Stoke Rochford Hall in Lincolnshire.

This annual event gives delegates a chance to reflect on the broader ideological agenda underlying Government attacks on teachers’ pay and conditions – and on children’s education. 

This year’s Conference is entitled “Does every child still matter?”. As Christine Blower rightly pointed out in opening the event, of course, for teachers, every child always mattered. However, it’s quite clear that the success of only a select few matter to this Government. Without jobs to offer to our youngsters, they are seeking to ration education by making it harder to achieve examination success. 

As an article by Dr Rona Tutt in the NUT’s latest “Education Review” points out, “there is nothing wrong with politicians being ambitious as long as they realise that simply making standards harder to reach does not, in itself, mean that children will become more able to reach them …. increasing the pressure on pupils and those who teach them can be counterproductive” [unless, I would add, increasing ‘failure’ is, in fact, your actual objective].

Michael Gove is also trying to enforce a dull fact-laden curriculum on maintained schools that will make it even harder for teachers to inspire a love of learning, particularly to pupils from the poorest backgrounds. It could even attract some maintained schools to become Academies so as to be ‘free’ of Gove’s ‘National Curriculum’.

Teachers have to remind politicians, and our data-driven school managements, that while well-run schools and high-quality teaching will, of course, benefit pupils, the effect on educational outcomes is far less significant than other factors like inequality and poverty. 

Another article in the Education Review, by Carl Parsons, concludes from research that the ‘school effect’ could contribute to perhaps just ten per cent of attainment. Poverty, or “the cumulative disadvantage of low income, tiredness, lack of time, lack of space, poor diet, poorer health and lower parental educational attainment,” plays a much greater part in deciding educational outcomes. Yet these facts are conveniently forgotten by politicians – and Ofsted inspectors – determined to blame teachers for problems that have much more to do with the failure of the UK Government to tackle child poverty and growing inequality in our society. 

A session led by Professor Colin Richards spelt out how the pseudo-science of ‘Ofsted grades’ was based, at best, on subjective and tentative evidence rather than any objective measurement of a teacher’s worth. Colin pointed out how an individual lesson ‘grade’, just like pupil attainment, was subject to so many factors outside a teacher’s control (including their nerves!).

Yet classroom observations and pupil attainment results are being used to make judgements on schools, and to make judgements on teachers’ pay-rises.  Colin pointed out that genuine inspection was more akin to an ‘art’ than a ‘science’ and involved complex judgements over-time, which should be linked to supportive advice and feedback, not ticking-off against a list of Ofsted criteria.

Two school leaders, both NUT members, explained their views and experiences of Ofsted. Susan Penney, a primary headteacher from Lancashire explained how her school’s recent inspection was carried out by an inspector with a sales background who had never taught in her life! Baljeet Ghale, a previous NUT President now teaching in Tower Hamlets, reminded the Conference of her Presidential speech where she had called for all inspectors to be practising teachers with recent experience. 

Another delegate who had been at the receiving end of Ofsted a few days ago reported that attempts to ask for feedback had been rudely refused by the inspectors. Ofsted act to bully and undermine schools, and certainly not to advise and support teachers.

At an afternoon workshop that I attended, subject specialists in Design and Technology and Citizenship reported on their tortuous efforts to persuade civil servants to revise the original draft plans for Gove’s new National Curriculum after they were released in February.  In both cases, the original drafts had been absolutely dire, produced from within the DfE with little or no consultation with teaching professionals. The citizenship draft had read like the content of an old ‘civics’ exam and the technology draft had been an outdated craft-based syllabus.

As in several other subject areas, lobbying had achieved some successes. The Design and Technology Programme of Study is certainly much improved. However, the lobbying was helped by business and industry also being critical of Gove’s original proposals. Improvements in Citizenship had been more limited. After all, while Gove may want to listen to business concerns, he certainly doesn’t value schools teaching genuinely ‘critical thinking’, especially about the real reasons for problems with public finances!
Gove even steals our sunshine

The final session, on education in Wales, confirmed how these data-driven policies were an international phenomenon. Welsh teachers had been proud of the fact that their schools were not subjects to SATs and league tables, unlike schools in England. However, annual national reading tests from Year 2 to Year 9 had been introduced from this year together with a totally unreliable ‘banding’ of schools to compare them unfairly into ‘successes’ and ‘failures’. Education Minister Leighton Andrews had angered teachers by echoing Gove’s criticism of teachers and refusal to accept that lack of school funding and child poverty were significant factors in attainment outcomes.

Leighton Andrews has been forced to resign but, of course, this was a Labour politician carrying out Tory policy. Shadow Education Minister Stephen Twigg has also made clear that he accepts much of Gove’s educational ideology too. While some speakers implored the Union to work harder in lobbying politicians, the reality is that it will be our collective strike action that will have the greatest effect. Surely, after the debacle over Falkirk and Milliband’s attacks on UNITE, it’s also time for trade union leaders to recognise that they have a duty to rebuild our own political representation, independent of the main pro-business parties sitting in Parliament.

The Conference continues tomorrow with sessions looking at Inclusion and on ‘Breaking the Mould’, reporting on a project to tackle gender stereotypes in primary schools.

Friday 12 July 2013

Gove's policies widen the class divide in education

I had an opportunity this morning to discuss how the widening divide between rich and poor in Britain - combined with the damaging effects of Government education policies - were also widening the class divide in education in Britain. 

I was asked to comment on BBC London Radio about research that had found that Britain had one of the biggest divides between rich and poor students when PISA data on reading levels for high-achieving boys was analysed. For background on the research, see:

The link between poverty and achievement is no surprise given the damaging effects of parents in low-income families often having to work excessive hours, and their children having less access to books, libraries and so on. What is a disgrace is that that link should be so pronounced in England.

It's a reflection both of the increasing poverty resulting from this Government's policies and the effect of a test-driven curriculum where children and teachers have little time for 'reading for pleasure' in the rush to meet the next imposed set of targets. Performance-pay will only make things worse.

To hear the full interview - and I'm glad I managed to get in library cuts and university tuition fees too (!) - go to - at 2 hours and 45 minutes. (It will be there for the next seven days only)

Thursday 11 July 2013

NUT Executive Report - get ready for our ongoing calendar of action

UPDATE: the calendar of ongoing action has now been released:
  • a second phase of rolling national strike action in the week beginning 30 September;
  • a third phase of rolling national strike action in the week beginning 14 October; and
  • a one-day national strike before the end of the Autumn term.
In the week commencing 30 September, members will take part in strike action in the Eastern, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside regions and in parts of Wales.

In the week commencing 14 October, members will take part in strike action in the North East, London, South East, South West regions and in the rest of Wales.


Today’s NUT National Executive Meeting was the first since the June 27th action in the North-West restarted our calendar of strike action to defend pay, conditions and education.

Reports that have been compiled since the day of the North-West strike confirmed its breadth and strength. Even according to Local Authority figures, 90% of maintained schools were totally or partly closed – although even this high figure is likely to be an underestimate of the strike’s actual impact.

That success has helped ensure that the next stage of the calendar of NUT and NASUWT strike action has now been agreed. To respect the national unions’ own decisions on publicity, I am not going to announce the exact dates here – but a national announcement about that calendar will be made tomorrow (Friday). Plans are being made for joint rallies and demonstrations on those strike days.  

Dates have already been announced for joint Rallies for Education building up to that strike action in London and Nottingham on Saturday September 14th and in Cambridge and Exeter on Saturday September 21st (which, regrettably, will clash with the next Steering Committee of LANAC in Leeds taking place that afternoon).

It’s certainly good news that those strike timings are about to be confirmed. NUT and NASUWT members will now be able to leave for their summer break knowing what they are preparing for when they return in September. There will then be urgent work to be done in building the Rallies for Education and, above all, the next rounds of regional – and then national – action.

It’s clear from the angry and determined mood at the General Meetings that I have attended recently, that members want their unions to show a real sense of urgency and determination in building the campaign.  It was also reported to the Executive that meetings between the unions and both those Michaels - Gove and Wilshaw - have shown no sign that they are willing to shift their positions. We have to build a campaign of action that is strong enough to make them think again.

Teachers will be pleased to hear that discussions are also taking place about further strike action to follow in 2014. It was reported that the NUT and NASUWT negotiating teams will be meeting before the end of term to discuss these plans. It was also agreed that a Special Executive meeting on September 6th will receive an update on those plans, along with plans to co-ordinate with any other TUC affiliates that might be moving towards strike action over the months ahead. 

NUT and NASUWT members have every reason to build the strongest possible action to defend our pay, conditions and education. However, we are not the only unions looking to oppose attacks on our livelihoods and our services. PCS civil servants have long been involved in an ongoing campaign of action. CWU members face the threat of privatisation of the Royal Mail. FBU firefighters are about to ballot over the threat to their pensions. Instead of striking separately, wouldn’t it be better for unions to strike together and have the biggest possible impact?

That’s why I pointed out to the National Executive that, as well as the major demonstration of the Tory Party Conference on September 29th, the National Shop Stewards Network are organising a Lobby of the TUC Congress in Bournemouth on September 8th to which the NUT has been invited to send a speaker. In response, Christine Blower confirmed that Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, was trying to bring together unions with live disputes to discuss co-ordination of action. The NSSN Lobby is being called to apply some pressure to make sure that co-ordination takes place.

Questions were also asked about plans to build localised sustained strike action in authorities – like Brighton and Lewisham – where it appears that unacceptable pay policies are being imposed on teachers. 

In short, teachers need to take a well-earned summer break – and return refreshed (and perhaps with a little money saved to help cover strike pay!) ready for a determined campaign of strike action next term. It’s a campaign that must continue and escalate into 2014 – and go on until we defeat these disastrous attacks.  

Lewisham Headteachers provoke dispute over performance-pay - action will follow

Michael Gove is on a mission to deregulate teachers’ pay and conditions as part of a broader Government agenda to privatise public services and undermine educational opportunities for many youngsters.

From September, a new Pay and Conditions Document has been imposed which could mean every teacher faces the threat of their next annual pay progression being blocked on the basis of arbitrary and divisive decisions about their ‘performance’. Over a few years, this could easily lead to salary losses of tens of thousands of pounds.

These provisions will, of course, allow schools and the Government to cut salary costs by holding down pay increases from their staff. The threats will also be used to bully staff into taking on even greater workload and will set teacher against teacher, damaging education. 

However, Gove’s fondness for ‘deregulation’ and ‘freedom’ for schools means that he has given Governing Bodies and Local Authorities a choice. 

Schools can follow Gove’s wishes and impose pay and appraisal policies that enable them to block pay progression, and perhaps also to cut the pay of new staff or even to introduce their own pay scales. 

On the other hand, schools have the choice to adopt policies that protect staff from most of Gove’s divisive intentions. The NUT and NASUWT have produced model policies which offer that protection. A range of Local Authorities have also now agreed model policies which offer similar safeguards.

It is, therefore, even more disappointing that the Labour-run Authority of Lewisham has failed to recommend model policies that stop schools being divided and demoralised by performance-pay. Instead, they have allowed an unaccountable group of Headteachers to insist that recommended policies include damaging provisions which are rightly unacceptable to teachers and their unions.

These unacceptable provisions include:

Teachers having to put together extensive portfolios of evidence to justify why they should be awarded pay-progression and how they meet each of the Teachers’ Standards. This will not just mean unnecessary bureaucracy but create more opportunities for pay-progression to be denied. Classroom observations, results, lesson planning, internal tracking, pupil work sampling and evidence supporting progress against Teachers' Standards will all be used to judge individuals.
Pay progression and performance being judged by Ofsted criteria of lesson observations. Even for the newest teachers, the Authority is insisting that “teaching should be over time consistently ‘good’, as defined by Ofsted”. The use of Ofsted criteria will lead to arbitrary and subjective decisions being made about a teacher’s performance and could also be unfairly influenced by factors outside a teachers’ control.
Teachers being expected to take on even greater workload to justify their pay progression. For example, the Authority are saying that a main scale teacher has to show “an increasing contribution to the work of the school” and “an increasing impact on the effectiveness of staff and colleagues”. To move on to the upper pay range, teachers are meant to show that they make “a significant wider contribution to school improvement” and that their teaching “is consistently good to outstanding”. These criteria will also mean denying even more teachers pay progression onto and along the upper pay range.
Teachers moving to a new school could be denied pay progression that they would otherwise have expected. The Lewisham model policy was amended to include reference to ‘pay portability’ but only to confirm that pay would not be cut – but not that it would also award annual pay progression to a teacher moving from one school to another - nor will it confirm previous relevant experience being taken into account for a teacher on their first appointment. When neighbouring boroughs are confirming these protections, why would teachers choose to come and work in Lewisham?
Rights to union and staff representatives will be limited. For example, the model policy denies the right of a staff governor to be on the pay committee; and does not accept that equality monitoring reports and plans for temporary TLR responsibility posts should be discussed with trade union representatives.

This provocative insistence on these unacceptable provisions leave teacher unions with little choice but to escalate to strike action next term, under the provisions of our ongoing ballot for action as part of our national dispute with Michael Gove.

Meetings have already taken place in two secondary schools where NUT and NASUWT members have voted overwhelmingly to support strike action to oppose these unacceptable policies. There is every reason to believe that other school groups will feel just a strongly about the need to defend their livelihoods - and children’s education – against these damaging policies.

Lewisham NUT – also liaising with the NASUWT – is now in discussion with National Union Action Officers about a hard-hitting program of strike action in Lewisham schools in September.

Monday 8 July 2013

Greenwich teachers ask - 'when are we going on strike?'

I was invited to speak as a National Executive member to Greenwich NUT tonight. One of the first questions I was asked as we gathered in the pub was, "when are we going on strike?!"

Before any more cynical readers suggest that this must have been asked by a seasoned 'activist', let me stress that this was from a primary teacher attending her very first Union meeting. She, like so many other teachers, had simply had enough of the barrage of attacks - and wanted to know what the Union was going to do about it!

A wide-range of contributions during the discussion on pay all made clear why teachers were so angry. Here are just a few:
  • the teacher whose husband had been offered a new post - as long as he accepted taking a pay-cut by giving up his Upper Pay Range salary;
  • the local Academy where a teenager had committed suicide, reportedly under the pressure of having to keep up with exam expectations
  • the teacher who, after three years of teaching, was thinking of resigning from the profession
  • the victimised union rep who had been told that she should drop her union role if she wanted to continue as a 'middle-manager'
  • the rep in a school that was facing a huge budget shortfall who knew savings would be made by blocking pay-progression
  • the teacher in a school where pupils had been trained to carry out observations on teachers that could count towards pay-decisions ...

In Greenwich - as in my borough of Lewisham - negotiations over the model pay policies to be recommended by the Local Authority were reaching a critical stage. In both Associations, NUT school groups are, therefore, preparing to request strike action as part of our national dispute against Gove's performance pay plans.

Of course, this was the same day that Gove announced his new National Curriculum, to be rushed in without any consultation with the teaching profession, and apparently with scant regard to what is known about how children learn and develop.

But then, as I explained, this curriculum is not intended to really promote learning for all - it is planned to restrict success to the lucky few. This Government wants to cut back on educational opportunity, and cut back on the cost of education. Cutting teachers pay and conditions is part and parcel of these anti-educational plans. His imposed curriculum could also help make the ' freedom' of academisation a more attractive scenario.

Luckily, I was able to conclude by assuring members that we would soon know when the next strike days will be taking place - as they are due to be be announced after this week's meetings of the NUT and NASUWT Executives. 

All members of those Executives should be in no doubt that the mood of teachers in the Greenwich meeting tonight, as in many other areas, is that it's time for decisive action to be taken - before it's too late to protect teachers and education from disaster.

 (... and thanks to Greenwich NUT for also voting unanimously to nominate me to stand for NUT Vice-President - and to Hillingdon and Oldham NUT Associations who have also confirmed that they have nominated me as well )

Supply Teachers - at the sharp end of privatisation

On Saturday, a packed NUT Supply Teachers' Conference met at the National Union's HQ, Hamilton House, to discuss how to defend and organise one of the most vulnerable and exploited sections of the Union.

It was an angry Conference. Many supply teachers - although many felt that perhaps a more supportive term like 'visiting teachers' should be used - clearly felt isolated and unsupported. However, by the end of the meeting, I think that delegates left feeling that important steps had been made in starting to pull together a network of teachers and in starting to rebuild our campaign against their exploitation.

With Gove and his advisers discussing whether they can get away with 'schools-for-profit', the effect on staff of the privatisation of supply teacher agencies should be a warning to every teacher. Long before 'pay portability' became an issue for permanent staff, supply teachers have already faced a 'race to the bottom' as unregulated agencies try to hire their labour as cheaply as possible to make maximum profit.

As Kevin Courtney pointed out, very few supply teachers are now employed through Local Authorities or on the national rates of pay according to the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD). The use of cover supervisors and teaching assistants to cover absences has tended to push rates of pay even lower. 

The Union has won some legal challenges, for example winning compensation for some overseas teachers employed through Teaching Personnel. Nevertheless, Teaching Personnel's profits rose from £4.5M in 2008 to around £8M in 2010. It was also pointed out how Capita, a big donor to new Labour, had ended up being able to profiteer out of CRB checks and had set up a supply agency too.

For the agencies, this is a highly profitable business. In the London workshop that I chaired, it seemed that a typical daily pay rate would be around £120 but with the agency charging the school £180 or more - a 50% mark-up. If a school want to then recruit the teacher to a permanent vacancy, the agencies also charge schools extortionate 'finders- fees' of a £1,000 or more.

A minority of teachers in the workshop were getting paid at the proper STPCD equivalent of, for an Inner London UPS3 teacher, £231 per day. That sounds like a high salary but, it has to be remembered, this is based on a working year of only 195 days, with no holiday or sick pay. Even these teachers were still exploited in other ways such as a lack of access to training and, in particular, the Teachers' Pension Scheme. 

Other teachers, sometimes sole bread-winners desperate for work, were being paid far less. One Surrey teacher was being paid just £88 per day. Even within the same agency,  teachers were sometimes being paid widely differing rates of pay as, unless teachers pushed for a better rate for themselves, agencies would pay the least they could get away with. Some teachers also had to pay over and over again for charges for CRB criminal record checks.

While some supply teachers were enjoying their work and had deliberately opted for this kind of more flexible employment, many others had been driven to it through discrimination and bullying forcing them into this vulnerable and unreliable source of income.

A debate started, which needs to continue, about how we can persuade schools to use alternatives to agencies. Some suggested that teachers set up their own co-operatives, undercutting the agencies simply by undercutting their huge additional commission charges. However, even co-operatives will be subject to the 'laws of the market' and the Union will also continue to demand that teachers are employed directly through Local  Authority or school supply -pools.

What certainly needs to be done is for the NUT to expose the agencies' profiteering racket. There is certainly an opportunity for some stunts and lobbies to 'out' the worst culprits and get the story in the headlines. One workshop suggested that a  'comparison website' ( perhaps '' !) could be set-up to publicise the rip-off - and to arm visiting teachers with the information they need to avoid the worst exploitation.

This was one of many suggestions that came out of the day. Others included campaigning to make sure schools provided basic information, site-plans etc to visiting teachers, and also the need to expose the use of non-qualified staff to teach children 'on-the-cheap'. One supply teacher told me how she'd been used to take  classes from the playground in the morning and return them at the end of the day to make it seem to parents that their class was being covered by a teacher. In fact, in between times, the class  had been covered by a TA!

Organisation will now be key. It was agreed that a further Supply Teachers' Conference must be held next year. Local and national networks to bring teachers together must now also be urgently developed. The NUT must also publicise and inform the whole Union of the need to support supply colleagues - and to warn all teachers of the dire consequences, to both staff and children, of running education for a profit.

 (... and thanks to Leeds and Merton NUT for adding their names to the list of Associations nominating me to stand for NUT Vice-President at their meetings last week )

Saturday 6 July 2013

Solidarity cycle-ride for the South African Miners

Send your pledges via cheque to "South African Miners Fund" c/o Lewisham NUT, Second Floor, Town Hall Chambers, Catford, London SE6 4RU.

As soon as term ends for me on Friday, July 19th, I'll be jumping on my old bike and heading for Belgium.

I'm hoping to successfully cycle the 150 miles from Dunkerque to Leuven and am seeking sponsorship in aid of the South African Miners' Solidarity Fund. 

This fund was set up by trade unionists in Britain to raise funds for the South African National Miners' Strike Committee, organising the ongoing struggles that first erupted after the Marikana massacre where 34 workers were killed by police. 

If you can help, please get in touch to offer sponsorship. Just a penny a mile will raise £1.50 - but higher mileage rates welcome !

Sponsor forms via:

Wednesday 3 July 2013

June 27 shows the way - now let's build to national action

ON JUNE 27, tens of thousands of NUT and NASUWT members took strike action across the North-West. It needs to mark the beginning of the end for Gove.

This article is taken from my latest July 2013 Martin4VP campaign newsletter which can be downloaded from:

Liverpool NUT report that 142 schools were totally closed, just 22 partially open, and only 3 unaffected. There was a similar solid response to the strike call in many other areas and big turnouts at local rallies.

As I have consistently argued ever since Michael Gove announced his performance-pay attacks back in December, the intolerable pressures in most schools mean that teachers will overwhelmingly support a clear call from their unions to take action. June 27 has confirmed that to be the case. Now we have to build on that success and confirm an ongoing calendar of action next term and into 2014. 

Our hesitation in calling action earlier this year gave Gove confidence to press ahead with his attacks. By September 2014, he plans to have wrecked our working conditions as well as our pay and pensions.

There can be no further hesitation. Unions need to give confidence to our members that we can force Gove back.  With a bold plan of action, reaching out to parents and the public as well, we can defeat this  divided and unpopular government’s attacks.

The dates for further NUT and NASUWT regional strikes need to be announced as soon as possible, so that Ministers - and our members - understand that June 27 was just the start of ongoing action.

It would be best for further regional strikes to take place in rapid succession so that we can then build quickly next term to the action that will have the  maximum  impact - and that’s national strike action.

Our twitter ‘teacherROAR’ was right to complain at the national media’s almost total silence about the success of June 27. National strikes will be much harder for them to ignore. National action can bring every teacher, in every region of the country, into a united display of our determination to stop Gove  wrecking education - and wrecking teachers’ lives.

Another advantage of national strikes are that they make it much easier to co-ordinate joint action with other trade unions in dispute against government attacks on their jobs, pay and conditions. 

We all know that ‘unity is strength’ but that unity needs not only be among teachers. November 30 2011, when hundreds of thousands of trade unionists took action together, was a high-point in organised opposition to Government attacks. The lack of co-ordinated action since then has helped them to press ahead with cuts and privatisation.  

It is time to rebuild that unity again. The success of June 27 will have helped ensure that united teacher action will continue next term. But let’s also make sure that we are sitting down with other unions and making plans for wider co-ordination of an ongoing action calendar  -  and continue until we win!

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Gove and Twigg deregulate, teachers must escalate!

Weary teachers are struggling on to the end of term but, when it comes to inventing yet more plans to attack education, our politicians certainly aren't winding down.

'The Independent' reports on leaked plans that only confirm what we already knew - that Michael Gove wants to allow big business to make a profit out of running schools.

The report confirms that he wants all 30,000 schools to become academies. To encourage sponsors to take schools off his hands, he wants to allow academies to be able to sell-off land and, of course, to be able to declare a profit to shareholders.

As I have regularly commented on this blog, as have other campaigners, this 'leak' is no real surprise. Gove's agenda has always been to privatise and turn schools, like other public services, into just another source of profit for the Government's big business friends. 

Of course, as in Sweden, allowing schools-for-profit will have a disastrous effect on education - but this Education Secretary isn't interested in education. His main concern, along with his Cabinet colleagues, is to deregulate and privatise public services.

His attacks on teachers' pay and conditions are part and parcel of these attacks, designed to drive down the cost of education so that big business can more easily make profits.

As part of this, the BBC reports that Gove is introducing a 'Deregulation Bill'  allowing schools to set their own term dates. When combined with the proposed deregulation of teachers' contracts, this is a recipe for a chaotic school calendar free-for-all where parents find that their children are attending different schools with different holiday dates and, of course, overall holidays are made even shorter (even though English schools already have one of the shortest summer holidays in Europe).

You wouldn't expect anything different from Gove but what about the shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg? Well the BBC reports his response as being: "I'm glad Michael Gove has finally done something sensible". 

Clearly the opposition to this disastrous deregulation isn't going to come from New Labour's Front bench. Teachers are going to have to rely on our own strength to save education from the attacks from all the main political parties. 

We are going to have to go out to parents and the public and explain why our struggle is part of a struggle to defend education as a whole. We will find our campaign gets support - especially when these politicians have the arrogance to take a massive pay-rise while their electorate are struggling to make ends meet.

Above all, we will have to take determined strike action to force back these attacks. June 27 was a good start to the action in the North-West but, as Gove and Twigg deregulate, we are going to have to escalate. Let's name the dates for next term as quickly as possible and, above all, move towards national strike days that bring everyone together and make sure that the politicians and media have to start to take notice.

Monday 1 July 2013

NSSN Conference builds for a 24-hour General Strike

On Saturday, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference brought together over 400 trade union reps to debate about how to rebuild the co-ordinated strike action needed to stop this Government’s attacks and, in particular, to discuss how to make the demand for a 24-hour general strike a reality.

The key points of the action plan agreed at the Conference were:

  • To hold a NSSN rally near the TUC congress in Bournemouth on 8th September followed by a lobby of congress, to call for a 24-hour general strike.
  • In the run-up to the congress, NSSN supporters were encouraged to pass motions in support of a 24-hour general strike in their shop stewards committees, union branches, anti-cuts groups and trades councils.
  • Each region of the NSSN was encouraged to hold regional meetings to build for the lobby of the TUC and popularise the call for a general strike.
  • To energetically build the TUC demonstration to defend the NHS taking place outside the Tory Party conference in Manchester on 29th September and organise a NSSN contingent on it which will march behind a banner calling for a 24-hour general strike.
I had the opportunity to report on the success of the strike action by NUT and NASUWT members across 22 local authorities in the North-West on 27th June. I explained that, while there had been some good local coverage, the strike had been largely ignored by the national media – but a national strike would not be so easy for the media to silence. 

I explained that teachers would be striking together again  in the Autumn but appealed to other trade unions to co-ordinate their action with ours - "we need to be out together to win". 

Reps queue to make their contribution to discussion
Platform speakers included Tommy Sheridan from the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax campaign, Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, and CWU general secretary Billy Hayes. Billy informed conference that 96% of his union's members had voted to oppose privatisation of Royal Mail. There was also a wide range of speakers fresh from local industrial disputes or community campaigns.

Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the PCS reviewed the course of industrial struggle since 30th November 2011. Commenting on the decision of the GMB and Unison to settle the pensions dispute he said it was, at best, a terrible tactical decision or at worst a deliberate attempt to knock the stuffing out of the 30th November action. To big applause he declared that all unions taking action should get in a room together and begin planning a coordinated response to austerity. 

Speaking in the workshop on Turkey
The closing plenary had a teacher speaking from France, on behalf of the SUD trade union federation as well Oktay Sahbaz from the Turkish and Kurdish group Day-Mer. I was also pleased to see that the workshop that I chaired on events in Turkey was the most popular choice for delegates. Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT and I were able to report on our trade union delegation to Istanbul and plans were made to set-up a solidarity campaign to support the ongoing struggles.

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