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Teachers: national action the only way forward

Thousands of teachers thronged Markham Street in Westminster between the Home Office and Department for Education, writes Bernie McAdam, NUT. Some started jumping up and down as loud calls rang out for “Gove to go”. You could feel the frisson in the air as the police did not quite know what was going to happen next; these were teachers, weren’t they, not students?

They were right to worry; teachers are livid, not only at the way Education Secretary was laying into their pay, pensions and working conditions, but also at the arrogance with which Michael Gove was destroying the state education system.

In the third of a series of regional strikes the NUT and the Nasuwt closed thousands of schools – around 90 per cent, with a further 5 per cent partially shut down – throughout the North East, South East, Cumbria, the South West and London on Thursday.

Around 20,000 teachers demonstrated in Central London, while Bristol, Durham, Brighton and Oxford also saw thousands of teachers on the march, with generous smatterings of students, parents and support staff among them. The mood everywhere was one of hope and determination, but unfortunately this is not matched by the leaders of the two unions involved.

National strike

The union leaders have told us a national strike is on the way before Christmas. But no date has been set and reports suggest no mention of it at the rally, not that many on the London demo (including the author of this report) could get into the packed rally!

The marvellous mobilisation on Thursday showed the widespread anger of teachers and support for strike action. This day would have been the most appropriate time to announce further action.

It is highly likely that teachers will be disappointed and betrayed by their leaders any time soon. We may well be told that the Nasuwt is not in favour of national action so the NUT cannot do it alone. We have already been told in an email from Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, that “Michael Gove has written to us to open up the possibility of talks”. A sign apparently that Gove wants “to engage in negotiations”.

But Gove will not back down. He is one of the most reactionary minister’s in David Cameron’s Cabinet – the only one to openly support the Daily Mail’s anti-socialist and anti-Semitic rant against Ralph Miliband, and whose closest advisor, Dominic Cummings, believes that genetics are more important than teaching in determining a child’s academic achievement.

So if Gove does talk, it will be to derail action not concede on the government’s strategic attack on delivering education on the cheap. The NUT executive must not use the yellow streak in the Nasuwt leadership to justify their own.

Next steps

The NUT is big enough and strong enough to give a lead to all the teachers recently on strike. We’ve already suffered a stuttering start, when the NUT, PCS and UCU failed to carry on with the pensions strikes after November 2011. They must not make the same mistake twice – that would be treachery, not stupidity.

We’ve seen what one day strikes, spread out terms apart, lead to: nowhere. It’s time we went out for a week: then see what the government says. If they have nothing to say then, threaten them with another week, then an indefinite stoppage. The right-wing media are calling us all the names under The Sun anyway, so let’s give them something to write about!

The truth is such a strategy would of course need building up, which is why the escalating phase is important to win over waverers. It’s also why picket lines are important and a practice that should be followed in every school, open or closed to students. But it is also a strategy that would tear the Coalition apart, and could therefore win.

Any backtracking by our leaders must be met with district wide meetings of NUT reps to protest the climb down. Such meetings must also aim to build and launch strike action from the schools they represent. Joint union strike committees in every school must be formed.

A rank and file movement that can take control of our disputes and negotiations needs to be established. If the union leaders refuse to act we must provide a new lead, one that is prepared to co ordinate unofficial strike action and tap the vast anger building up amongst teachers.

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