|The News Line: Feature
Tuesday, 4 September 2012
BURSTON SCHOOL STRIKE ANNIVERSARY MARCH AND RALLY
TRADES unionists, their families and supporters gathered in Burston village near Diss in Norfolk on Sunday for the annual rally and march to commemorate the famous Burston School strike.
|An enthusiastic delegation of children waved flags and cheered all the marchers
The Burston school strike from 1914 to 1939, by pupils and their parents in support of their school teachers Mr and Mrs Higdon, is the longest in history.
This brave couple insisted on providing proper education for the children of agricultural workers.
Tom and Kitty Higdon were socialists. Tom was the son of a farm labourer and Kitty the daughter of a foreman shipwright.
They came to Wood Dalling in Norfolk in 1902.
Kitty was appointed HeadMistress and Tom Assistant Teacher.
They ran into conflict with the school managers and local farmers, as Kitty was always trying to improve the condition of the school buildings and the farmers kept taking the children out of school to work on the land.
Moreover, Tom was a strong supporter of the new Labourers union and cycled miles to organise new members.
When in 1910, the Higdens and some other labourers contested the parish elections and got elected, the school management demanded dismissal or transfer.
In 1911 they moved to Burston, where the same issues came up.
Tom and others like him stood in the Parish elections and beat the local Reverend and farmers from their positions.
The latter still controlled the school management, and trumped up criticisms of the Higdons.
For example, they said that Kitty had lit a fire in the school without permission, to warm up children who got wet in the rain.
The Education Committee inquiry could only find that Mrs Higden was ‘discourteous’ to the managers.
The couple were dismissed with three months notice.
The children, led by pupil Violet Potter, organised a strike supported by their parents.
On the day of dismissal, 66 of the 72 pupils marched round the village with placards saying: ‘Justice. We want our teachers back’.
The school pupils continued to be taught on the village green and then moved to a converted carpenter’s shop.
The parents were repeatedly fined, but the word spread and support poured in the from the labour and trade union movement.
By 1917 enough money was raised to buy a building in the heart of the village and the school continued till 1939, when Tom died.
The strike had lasted 25 years.
On Sunday, stalls were set up on the green outside the historic Burston strike school building which has now become a museum.
Speakers addressed the crowd from a stage in the morning and afternoon in between musical interludes.
At 1.00pm the demonstration set off round the lanes of Burston, led by a cart and horses.
The following union organisations took part; Trunch District Agricultural Workers, Coventry TUC, Norwich and District Trades Council, Ipswich and District Trades Council, Eastern Region PCS, GMB Norwich General N24, Lowestoft GMB.
Also present were Unison NW Anglia Health, Peterborough Trades Council, POA, CWU Eastern Region No.5, Unison Suffolk Police Staff, RMT North East Offshore Shipping, RMT Norwich, RMT young members, Thompson’s Solicitors, GMB Kings Lynn, Unison Norfolk County, Chelmsford TUC, NASUWT, RMT brass bands, Hammersmith and Fulham TUC, Unison Alexander Hospital Harlow, Crawley Trades Council.
Speakers at the rally included PCS and SERTUC regional officer Megan Dobney, Clive Dobney Norwich Labour Party, Bob Crow Secretary of the RMT and Cath Spate Unite National Officer.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: ‘We are criticised for being extremists and that we’re selfish.
‘This community was right to support the Higdens’ stand and we celebrate today what the Higdens and the community did.
‘But it is no good remembering the past if we can’t defend what is at stake today in 2012.
‘We’ve had 13 years of a Labour government which had the opportunity to reverse the attacks on working men and women.
‘It should say what it would do if elected.
‘It should repeal the anti-union laws and reverse the attacks on public services and stop spending billions on weapons of mass destruction.’
Crow said that under changes made by the Tory-LibDem coalition, workers can be unfairly dismissed and only go to a tribunal after two years employment and every person that wants a tribunal has to pay £250 up front and then another £1,200.
Crow said: ‘Labour leaders should be here today, rather than talking to governments in Switzerland and Geneva and to captains of industry.
‘Next we have to say that we have to get rid of this government.’
Crow concluded: ‘Marches are important, but if general strikes are good enough for Spain and Greece then they are good enough for us.’
Cath Spate from Unite spoke of the need to save the Agricultural Wages Board, which not only guarantees wage rates but also holiday and sick pay.
She said: ‘The big horticultural multinationals and packhouses want pay reduced to the minimum wage and reductions in holiday and sick pay, which would result in £9m being taken out of the rural economy.’
Chris Grant, regional officer of the NUT, said: ‘The whole approach of this government is Academisation as a precursor to full blown privatisation.
‘This is not in the interests of children’s education.
‘It is using essential public services to make profits for shareholders.’
‘Free Schools get huge sums of money for pupils they haven’t got.’
Graham White, Divisional Secretary of Suffolk NUT, said: ‘In Suffolk, all Free Schools have been based on middle schools for 9-to-13 year-olds that they are phasing out.
‘This leaves these sites available at peppercorn rents.
‘The government funds millions to convert these schools to Free Schools for 11-to-16 year olds with taxpayers money.
‘The government gave £5.5m for Clare school with potentially over 300 pupils but actually got 100.
‘Local Authority (LA) schools are accountable to the local electorate, but Academies and Free Schools are only accountable to the Secretary of State.
‘Local Authorities stripped of a large number of schools lose economies of scale and will be unable to provide specialist support services, especially for children with special needs.
‘Workers in these schools would lose terms and conditions built up over many years.’
Andy Black from the Prison Officers Association (POA) said: ‘We want to raise awareness of the imposed increase in POs’ retirement age to 68.
‘We should be treated the same as police, ambulance and firemen and retire at 60.
‘We’ve been against privatisation of the prisons for years.
‘We lost Birmingham prison to Group 4 and another ten are up for marketisation.’
He concluded: ‘I live for the day this government goes.’
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