Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency

Following on from the rolling regional strikes last year, today – Wednesday 26th March – saw thousands of schools across England and Wales close as members of Britain’s largest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), took strike action in defence of wages, pensions, and conditions.

Following on from the rolling regional strikes last year, today – Wednesday 26th March – saw thousands of schools across England and Wales close as members of Britain’s largest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), took strike action in defence of wages, pensions, and conditions.

Demonstrations

Members of the Marxist Student Federation (MSF) and supports of Socialist Appeal were present at the demonstrations held by striking teachers in cities around the country. [See below for text of a leaflet that Socialist Appeal supporters were handing out, including a statement of support for the strike from the MSF.] The protest in London was a potent display of the support felt amongst teachers for this strike action, with well over 10,000 taking to the streets amongst a sea of trade union branch banners and dark blue NUT flags. Beginning outside the BBC Broadcasting House, the London demonstration quickly grew beyond all expectations and was soon bursting through the limits imposed by the urban geography of the official starting point.

As the march began, it was clear from placards and chants who the physical lighting rod was for the anger of teachers in the UK: Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, who – along with the rest of the millionaire Tory-led Cabinet – is seen as being completely out of touch with the real conditions faced by teachers.

NUTMarch2014-2With his nonchalant and smug imposition and suggestion of new measures inside schools, the Tory Education Minister has – more than anyone or anything – helped to fuel the burning fire of indignation felt by those in the teaching profession. YouGov polls indicate that the proportion of teachers with high morale/satisfaction has decreased from 71% in April 2010 (when the Tory government came in) to 14% in December 2013. Many of those on the protest spoke passionately about teaching, but highlighted how, with proposals from Gove such as the abolition of planning, preparation and assessment time during school hours, many were being driven out of the profession due to stress and overwork.

The Department for Education’s own surveys indicate that primary and secondary school teachers currently work an average of 60 and 56 hours per week respectively, meaning that many are already frequently having to give up evenings and weekends for lesson planning and marking. Now teachers are being asked, in reality, to work longer weeks, for less pension and pay, until a later retirement age (now 68 at the earliest).

Unity is strength

Reports indicate that thousands of schools were closed as a result of today’s strike by the NUT. However, the impact could have been far greater if the other main teaching union – the NASUWT – had joined in with the national strike action. This failure of the NASUWT leadership to organise for joint strike action alongside the NUT has damaged the unity of teachers – a unity that is of the upmost necessity in the fight against Gove’s attacks.

Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the NUT, today raised the possibility of further strike action this year, if the demands of teachers are not met. Further strike action is necessary and should be welcomed; but it must be built for as part of an escalated struggle, with a strategy to increase the length and breadth of the strikes – that is, to broaden the unity of trade unionists in their fight against the Tory-led Coalition, and to pose the question of an all-out strike in education.

Isolated one-day strikes by individual unions – as we have seen amongst teachers, firefighters, lecturers, and civil servants –can be an initial step, but cannot be the sole tactic. Such isolated strikes, if simply repeated without any long term plan for how to win, will – and do – lead to demoralisation and frustration, as members lose days of pay without gaining anything.

It is the task and the responsibility of the trade union leaders – and particularly the TUC – therefore, to call for and organise joint industrial action across all unions, starting with a 24-hour general strike, to galvanise and mobilise the labour movement against the Tory-Liberal government and its programme of austerity, which is affecting not only teachers, but all workers. Such a strike, in turn, would bring the country to standstill and thus cut across all the worries of teachers and other public sector workers, who are constantly made to feel worried by the bosses and media about the impact of isolated strike action on the rest of the public.

The crisis of capitalism

NUTMarch2014-1In this respect, it must be pointed out that the attacks by Gove are not unique, but are part of a wider cuts programme being implemented across the board. The measures being proposed by the Tory Education Minister are not simply the result of any particular malice and ideology on his part, but stem from the crisis of capitalism, which forces governments of all colours and creeds to carry out vicious attacks on workers and youth.

It is true that the Tory leaders are completely detached from the impacts of their cuts and have no idea of the real conditions facing ordinary people; it is true that this Cabinet of millionaires may have a particular arrogance and smugness with which they propose their austerity measures; and it is true that Gove clearly has no idea of what teaching as a profession actually entails: but make no mistake – a Labour government after the 2015 General Election will make exactly the same cuts if they do not break with the anarchy of capitalism. The only difference is that Tristram Hunt, the current Shadow Minister for Education, would be implementing such cuts with a kind and friendly smile.

The fight to defend the conditions of those who work in education – and the fight to defend education itself – must, therefore, be linked to the fight to transform society along socialist lines: to take the wealth in society into democratic and public ownership, so that it can be used to build more schools, hire more teachers, and make decent life-long education a reality for all. It is this political – socialist – programme that the trade union and Labour leaders should organise around and fight for; for without this, the only future for teachers, students, and all working people, is one of continuing attacks and declining living standards.


Socialist Appeal leaflet

The NUT’s national strike action on 26th March is a welcome show of strength and fighting spirit from teachers.

Primary school teachers are currently expected to work a 60 hour week for pay that is 10% lower in real terms than it was six years ago. Secondary school teachers are hardly faring any better. While the government forces teachers to work harder for less money, last year saw £13.3 billion paid out in bankers’ bonuses after the Tories decided to scrap the 50p top rate of tax.

These attacks are not simply the product of Michael Gove’s poisonous ideology. As a result of the transfer of hundreds of billions of pounds of debt, accumulated by bankers and speculators, onto the shoulders of working people, the Tories now have no choice but to cut wages, conditions and standards of living in order to pay the debts of the bankers.

Not only that, but at a time of economic crisis the rich are desperate for ways of making profit. Their friends in government are only too happy to oblige by tearing open our education system to the ravages of free market profiteering and speculation. Thus Gove champions Free Schools and an end to national pay agreements, to pave the way for privatisation.

In short, these attacks are the product of capitalism in crisis. Teachers must resist with all the means at their disposal, including joint action by ALL teaching unions and by the trade union movement as a whole. The NUT and other unions must have a planned strategy of escalating action to win our demands. The TUC should make use of its threat of a 24 hour general strike to defend teachers and all other workers who are suffering the same attacks.

Ultimately, we will not win serious concessions under capitalism. To safeguard our jobs and schools, education must receive massive investment, and schools must be publically owned and be democratically run. This must be funded through the seizing of the assets of all those who would make a profit out of education – the banks, speculators and large corporations – and using their resources to better meet the needs of children, staff and parents, rather than to line the pockets of the rich. In essence, our fight for decent pay and conditions, and for a decent education for our kids, is a fight for socialism.

MSF statement

“The Marxist Student Federation fully supports our teachers on strike on 26 March.

“The cuts to teachers’ pay and conditions is as much an attack on students as it is on staff. By making teachers work harder for lower pay the government is driving some teachers away from the profession and demoralising others. This is seriously damaging to our education.

“We also recognise that these attacks are the product of a crisis of capitalism that is cutting education, healthcare and other services across the board. It is leaving a million young people unemployed and a whole generation facing a worse standard of living than that of our parents.

“The fight against this capitalist system is one that students, staff and all workers and unemployed people must join. We stand for the socialist transformation of society as an alternative to capitalist crisis, cuts and austerity”