Over 500,000 education workers are currently being balloted, in a struggle for an inflation-busting fully-funded pay rise.
The NEU and NASUWT teaching unions are seeking to join others in nationwide strike action, as part of the rising tide of industrial discontent.
Teachers have seen a 20% fall in real wages since 2010, and have an average working week of 54 hours. Meanwhile, schools are facing a funding cliff edge by the end of the year. Yet the Tory government has shown complete disregard for education.
For the bosses, universal education means nothing more than producing the next generation of workers. And teachers are mere operatives on the factory line. The employers’ only concern is how to minimise the cost.
But now teachers and teaching assistants are fighting back.
Few teachers or teaching assistants come to the profession in search of riches, but because they care deeply about education.
For a long time, the slow erosion of real pay was taken on the chin – particularly when many saw first hand the effect of austerity on children they teach. At every point, education staff have struggled in an attempt to put their communities first.
With the Tories hacking the welfare state to pieces through austerity, schools were forced to take on ever-greater tasks. The resources allocated to them, however, have not expanded in tandem.
Teachers work tirelessly – into the night, at weekends, and through the holidays. During the pandemic they risked their health to try and provide a decent education. What used to be considered an immense sacrifice is now considered the standard for the sector.
The government and the employers seemingly believe these Stakhanovite efforts can be maintained indefinitely. But the wheels are coming loose, as stress and strain take their toll.
Simply look at the 30% of sick days that are now taken due to mental health; or the 66% of those polled who were found to be thinking of leaving the profession due to workload.
Cuts, cuts, cuts
Currently, inflation stands at somewhere around 15%, according to the last RPI measure taken in September. In the latest pay negotiations, however, the government offered a 5% pay rise – effectively a 10% pay cut.
To add insult to injury, the Tories have refused to release further money to fund this. This means that schools have to make cuts to their own budgets to cover this increase, in a cowardly attempt by the government to pass the buck.
Two thirds of school heads have drawn up plans to make teaching assistants redundant; half are set to make teachers redundant; and 80% are turning off the heating.
The situation is so extreme that the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), whose members would be tasked with carrying out this brutal agenda, is balloting its members for the first time in its 125-year history.
The unity of all workers is an essential part of this campaign. And coordinated action is the key to its success.
The Public Civil Service Union (PCS) has taken the correct approach by calling for Department of Education staff to go out simultaneously with the teachers, amongst other proposals for coordinated strike action.
Similarly, the NAHT and NASUWT are coordinating their ballots and potential strike action with the NEU – a move that would shut down schools completely.
Not all support staff in schools are organised with the NEU, however. Those who aren’t must therefore continue to press their unions to support the teachers’ strike in any way possible, and not allow the capitalists and their flunkeys to sow division.
Fight for socialism!
Ultimately, it is not teachers or support staff who set the priorities, but the government and the capitalist class through them. They want nothing but obedient workers who can multiply, add, subtract, divide, write a simple sentence, and do what they are told.
Militant, determined strikes are what is needed, in coordination with other unions, as part of a unified fighting strategy. If the Tories want a taste of our strength, then we should give it to them through a one-day public sector walkout, as a launchpad for rolling strike action across the trade union movement. If we strike together, we can force them out!
This must be linked to a clear socialist programme: one that puts education under the control of teachers, assistants, and the wider communities they serve; paid for by the expropriation of the billionaires and the major monopolies.
On this basis, we could build an education system truly worthy of society, staff, and students.
For all these reasons, education workers must strike. And we must prepare for the fight of our lives – because education will never be safe in the hands of the Tories and the capitalist system they represent.
Academisation, poor pay, backbreaking workloads, and brutal learning conditions: this is what holds our sector and our students back.
Only by fighting to overthrow capitalism and bring about the socialist transformation of society can we offer the next generation the education and lifelong learning they deserve.