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Schools out! Teachers’ strikes must escalate

By Bernie McAdam
The teachers’ unions NUT and NASUWT called the second and third of their regional strikes this month as they step up their fight against Education Secretary Michael Gove’s attacks on their pay, pensions and workload.
Teachers from the Eastern, Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside areas took one-day strike action on 1 October. Several well-attended demonstrations were held, including over 3,000 people in Birmingham and 2,000 in Sheffield. The next regional strikes take place in the North East, Cumbria, London, South East and South West areas on 15 October.
The unions have also promised a national strike before Christmas, but no date as yet has been named.
Teachers are facing attacks from the Tories on a number of fronts. The changes to pensions have already seen teachers paying in more to work longer and to get less. Now the Government is forcing through career average pensions by April 2015.
The attacks on pay and conditions of work are breathtaking. Gove’s plans involve scrapping automatic incremental progression on the pay scale. Performance related pay becomes the norm. In total teachers’ pay has decreased by 15 per cent in real terms since the Tories have come to power.
Gove has also served notice that the school day and terms will get longer. Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time for teachers and “rarely cover” protection will be attacked.
Teachers will revert to the days when clerical and administrative tasks become a key part of their workload. Gove wants to remove any statutory protection, which at present gives a limited safeguard against excessive workload.
All these attacks are part of the government’s overall strategy to smash up the comprehensive education system. The growth of academies and free schools is designed to dismantle local authority control over schools. This creeping privatisation will ride roughshod over teachers’ trade union rights, which in turn worsens their ability to protect their pay and conditions of work.
Teachers will now be expected to negotiate their pay with the head teacher based on a teacher’s “performance”. This is nothing less than an attempt to eradicate national pay bargaining.
Fight Gove all the way
Teachers have every right to be angry, but strike action should not just be a means of letting off steam. NUT General Secretary Christine Blower, in justifying the strikes, complains that we are “faced with a coalition government that is refusing to listen” and that Gove should “enter into meaningful dialogue with the NUT and NASUWT”.
This is the real reason why our union leaders had finally called for a little more action: to force the government to negotiate – when we should be striking for real concessions… but in any case Gove won’t talk.
The future of our education system is at stake, and teachers’ role in that is up for grabs. Facing up to a historic attack requires from our union leaders a plan of action. To date all we have had is dithering and delay.
It is two years since we had our last one-day national strike over pensions. Gove’s response to pleas to negotiate has been to up the attacks. Buoyed up by his victory on pensions, he sticks the boot in over pay. He doesn’t want to talk; he prefers action!
We need a union leadership prepared to act for our class the same way that Gove does for his. So deep and wide-ranging are the attacks, but yet so shallow and narrow is their response.
The nature of this struggle requires a call to arms for all workers in the education system, and not just teachers. A campaign to protect our schools must involve all education workers and their unions, parents and students. Local action councils in every area should be formed to mount a fightback.
Strike to win
The NUT as the biggest and best placed of the unions could have a pivotal role in this struggle. However it must develop a winning strategy that seeks to mobilise all those involved in education. It will only be taken seriously if, as the leading teachers’ union, it is seen as deadly serious about defeating Gove and mobilising its members for an all out fight.
The present strategy of intermittent and delayed one-day action will not be sufficient. Long drawn-out disputes only serve to exhaust union members unless they see real progress, rather than clinch victory.
The NUT has to spell out the terms of a victory. We need to escalate to an all-out, indefinite strike with clear demands in defence of teachers and comprehensive education.
Joint strike committees that reach out to the local community should be formed in every school. If our leaders are incapable of developing a winning strategy, then we need a movement from below based on the strike committees, which can proceed without them.
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