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Teachers: all out on 26 march

 The National Union of Teachers has called a national strike in a continuing campaign to defend pay, pensions and conditions: report by NUT member Bernie McAdam

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Teachers are right to feel angry. That’s why thousands of schools will be closed on 26 March across England and Wales.

Our aim must be to use this one-day protest strike as a springboard for the extended strike action that is needed to stop the attacks on education workers and on the state schools system.

Pay and conditions

Teachers’ pay has declined 15 per cent in real terms since the Tories came to power. Even the School Teachers’ Review Body acknowledged this when it rebuffed Gove’s recommendations for further attacks on pay and conditions.

Workload is excessive. Two out of five teachers leave in the first five years. According to a recent survey, a primary school teacher’s average working week is 60 hours, while in secondary schools it is 56 hours.

In our strike over pensions two years ago, the union did ensure that teachers already over 50 could retire on a full pension at 60. However, this apparent concession (of something we already had!) came out of a major defeat. We now pay more in, get less when we retire and will retire later – at 68 for those just starting their careers. And there are further increases in teachers’ contributions this April.

Rolling back all these attacks will require the full force of the union’s strength, and not puny concessions.

Academies

However, the attacks on pay, the divisive performance related pay schemes and opening the door to non-qualified teachers all have a purpose.

Education secretary Michael Gove is doing this to break the teaching unions, in order to transform comprehensive state education into a restored two or three-tier system. Middle class parents who cannot afford private school fees will be able to send their kids to a selective academy, while the rest of us have to make do with bog standard schools based on the detested Secondary Moderns of the 1950s.

There are now 3,444 academies, including well over half the secondary schools in Britain. There were just 203 when the Coalition came to power. While previously it was Birmingham council that had the most schools to monitor with 450, the Department for Education, with its tiny and diminished workforce, is supposed to keep tabs on thousands.

It cannot be done. So they, like the free schools, are effectively unsupervised. Nepotism, poor standards, selective practices that disadvantage working class students and profiteering all go unchallenged. Hundreds of thousands in taxpayers’ money has been siphoned off to private companies like Mosaica Education, Shoreline and Subaru UK Ltd.

Action over pay, pensions and conditions must be seen in this wider context of defending the universal right to a free, comprehensive and equal education for all, regardless of class, race or gender.

Action not talk

The NUT’s last national strike was back in 2011. Nearly six months have flown by since the last regional action. This time around the leadership of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has backed down.

The NUT has quite rightly refused to wait for NASUWT this time, but we are still dragging our heels. The NUT had originally announced a national strike before Christmas, only to call it off on the promise of talks with Gove. Then we were promised a date before 13 February. Finally we have 26 March.

These delays are undermining our chances of victory. Gove has been perfectly frank that these “talks” are only to discuss the implementation of these changes.

The time for talking has gone: time now to escalate action beyond 26 March.

Rank and file

Gove will not concede on the government’s strategic attack on state education. Making him do so will clearly mean more than protest strikes every six months.

Rank and file teachers should demand that their leaders adopt a fighting strategy. Rapidly escalating action, up to and including an indefinite all out strike is what is needed.

Are the union leaders up for this course of action? No signs of that, so the rank and file need to fight for this from below. Joint strike committees that reach out to parents, students and other education workers should be formed in every school right away. They should link up on a district-wide basis and assert their democratic control of the strike. A rank and file network could then begin to challenge the stop-start tactics and offer a new, fighting lead.

Better to go down fighting than meekly watch our education service being smashed to smithereens. Sustained strike action could be a rallying point for teachers and all workers. Our whole class has a stake in a properly funded comprehensive system.

If we as teachers are seen as deadly serious about defending our pay and conditions and linking that to a fight to stop the break up of our comprehensive education system, then other workers and young people will rally to our banner too.

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