Start campaign now to save schools!

Submitted by AWL on 6 April, 2016 - 2:19 Author: Patrick Murphy

The conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) on 25-29 March voted to ballot for discontinuous strikes in response to the Government's Education White Paper published on 17 March.

The first of what should be a series of strikes is to take place in the week beginning 4 July. The objective is to win a national system of pay and conditions for all state-funded schools regardless of status.

The Education White Paper says that all state schools will be forced to become academies, funding will be cut, and head teachers can decide at will who is a qualifiedÂť teacher and who is not. Forced Academisation means terms and conditions of school staff will become entirely deregulated.
This is not just an issue for school workers, but an attack on all children’s education. At its conference the NUT also resolved to launch a public campaign, and to approach other school workers unions.

The public campaign needs to start now, without waiting for the strike in July. Teacher unions, other school worker unions, parents, students, and Momentum and Labour Party activists, should get together now and set up local campaigns against the White Paper.

Leafletting parents and students, holding public meetings and rallies, organising protests, and challenging local MPs can push back the Government. In 1995 a parent-led campaign, Fight Against Cuts in Education, was able to get a national demonstration 25,000 strong. With even many Tories already opposing the White Paper plans, a large public campaign can be built now, too.

The NUT must learn the lessons of its own recent past. Strikes on pensions, workload, etc. failed to win mainly because they were never part of a serious plan to win, but instead aimed only at registering protest.

There must be a set of clear, precise, and achievable demands. NUT members and other workers need to understand what they are fighting for.

We should demand:

A limit on working hours, starting with a maximum 48 hour working week

A national pay scale with automatic incremental progression and an end to all forms of PRP

A qualified teacher for every classroom

A pension/retirement age of 60

This is not simply a strike against forced academisation.

This dispute is part of a campaign for a national contract and a levelling-up of pay and conditions across all schools. Academy workers have just as much interest in winning that battle as those in local authority schools. Achieving a national contract means bringing them back into a national system which they left when their school converted to academy status.

Isolated, single-day strikes which take place every six months, no matter how big they are, will not shift the Government. It is important to be clear and honest with members: to defeat this government will require the NUT and other unions to plan a clear programme of strike action that escalates. The advantage of striking now is that there is a good example to follow. The BMA has ramped up the junior doctors action despite the Government imposing a bad contract on them.

We are in a better political situation than when we fought the Tories on pensions. The Tories splits over Europe, and their economic difficulties (a huge balance-of-payments deficit, and a huge budget deficit despite all the cuts) have made their divisions on their austerity programme more open.

There is Tory opposition to forced academisation.

The Conservative cabinet member for Education in Buckinghamshire has attacked the proposals and insisted (rightly) that there is absolutely no evidence that academies improve education outcomes for children. Other Tory council leaders have made similar statements. Both the Bow Group and the Conservative Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee have attacked the plans.

Only a week before the announcement of forced academisation, Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw denounced seven of the largest academy chains for their failure to improve their schools and the huge salaries paid to their CEOs. Outside a group of hardcore Tory ideologues there is very little support for forced academisation.

One by-product of the 2008 banking crisis has been the emergence of new, left political movements across Europe, as well as the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US. In Britain we've had the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader.

It is very important that Corbyn is asked to back our strikes and endorse our demands. During the 2011 pension strikes Ed Miliband very pointedly refused to back the action or its demands.
We need a commitment from Labour, written into its next manifesto, to abolish academies and to set a national contract for teachers that is negotiated annually with the unions. That won't come without a fight inside Labour.

Teachers, parents, students, and education campaigners should join that fight.

Find model motions for Momentum and Labour Party branches here

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