Schools up and down the country have been shut down today, as a result of a one-day strike action by the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Demonstrations in all major cities brought out thousands of teachers onto the streets in protest against the Tory plans for academisation of schools and the cuts to education that have been seen as a result of austerity.
In London, over 10,000 NUT members, parents, children, and fellow trade unionists marched to Parliament. The mood was energetic, with the massive turnout surprising even the demo's organisers.
Speakers at the rally described how teachers are being forced to do more with less, as the government has “frozen” schools’ budgets. In reality this means budgets have been cut, as schools’ costs have increased.
Many spoke about how teachers - already under huge pressure - are having to cope with larger class sizes as schools attempts to balance the books. Many teachers are facing redundancies, and even whole departments, such as music and arts are facing the axe.
On top of this, the government is pushing for all schools to become academies. As well as handing control of schools over to private “trusts”, this will allow schools to abandon the national pay scale, and will therefore weaken the collective strength of the teaching unions.
All of this is another example of workers being forced to pay for a crisis of the bankers and the rich, through cuts to their services, terms and conditions, and pensions.
For the Tories, the only way out of the crisis is further privatisations and attacks. The academisation plan is just one aspect of a bigger programme that includes privatisation of the NHS, Royal Mail, and other government assets.
Today’s strike is an important stage in the fightback against this hated Tory government. As Kevin Courtney, the acting general secretary of the NUT, stressed: this day of action would likely be the first of many in the battle to defend education against austerity and attacks. It is evident from today's huge demonstrations that the mood to fight is there. Teachers everywhere are saying enough is enough.
But the teachers are not alone in this battle - junior doctors and the UCU have both taken recent strike action to defend their terms and conditions, not to mention numerous other local struggles.
The opposition to this government is not limited to these unions alone, but exists throughout the organised working class and beyond. The TUC should fulfil its role and coordinate this opposition, by making preparations for a one-day general strike.
Mass action such as this would be enormously powerful, and would give workers everywhere the opportunity to realise their true strength. With the Tories deeply divided, such a strike could be a stepping-stone to developing a movement capable of bringing down the government. In such a situation, we must campaign for a Corbyn government to come to power, armed with a bold socialist programme.
Corbyn under attack
It is significant that Jeremy Corbyn was the first Labour Party leader in memory to address the NUT conference this year. Meanwhile, John McDonnell, the left-wing shadow chancellor, spoke to those at the NUT strike rally outside Parliament today.
Finally we have a leadership that says Labour should be an anti-austerity party, after decades of Tory-lite policies. Corbyn and McDonnell have been vocal in rejecting academisation, and have set out a vision for a “cradle-to-grave” National Education Service.
The problem is that the vast majority of the MPs are hell bent on removing Corbyn, as they wish for the party to be a safe pair of hands for big business.
With their attempted coup unravelling in the face of mass mobilisations by Corbyn’s supporters, the Blairites will likely seek to demoralise Corbyn into resigning, or stitch up a rotten deal behind the backs of Labour members.
There has therefore never been a more important time to get active in the party, so as to reclaim it for the working class. Despite Corbyn’s popularity amongst the membership, the party apparatus is still controlled by a hard-core of his enemies. The only way to overturn this is for the Left to get organised, so as to win back the party from the clutches of the Blairites.
We must fight for Labour to adopt a bold socialist programme, including nationalisation (under workers’ control) of the commanding heights of the economy, as an end to the nightmare of austerity. Only in this way could Corbyn implement his full programme.
If the right wing succeed in removing Corbyn, this will be a blow not just to teachers, but to the whole working class.
All trade unions must rise up to the occasion. This means getting stuck in and getting organised to defend Corbyn against the Blairites. It’s now time to raise the question of the NUT’s affiliation to the Labour Party, in order that the union may join the ranks of those defending Corbyn and fighting for socialism.