The annual conferences of the two largest teaching unions, the NUT and the NASUWT, meeting at the weekend heard that the unions and the coalition government were in a ‘head on collision’ as they voted overwhelmingly for strike action in defence of pay, pensions and the very existence of state education.
For the past two years, teachers have been subject to pay cuts resulting from the public sector pay freeze.
This cut in pay will be deepened this month when the first phase of increases to pension contributions kick in this month, with a London-based teacher of ten years’ experience suffering a loss of £49 a month, rising to £123 over the next two years.
Newly qualified teachers face pay cuts of up to £5,500 a year under the government’s ‘package’ of cuts as well as the prospect of having regional pay imposed on the profession which will result in even further pay reductions.
On top of these savage cuts to pay, teachers are facing an unprecedented attack on their profession, their unions and on the very basis of free state education.
Teachers are coming under increasing attack and facing dismissal for the crime of being unable to meet the increasingly impossible ‘targets’ set by government.
With teachers literally at the end of their tether over these unrelenting attacks, the NASUWT conference voted for an escalating campaign of industrial action, including strikes, over what it described as ‘ideologically driven attacks on state education’.
Attacking the central plank of the coalition’s attack on state education, conference was told by a senior union official that the government calls for ‘school autonomy are disguising the true aim of academy chains taking over vast numbers of schools, replacing the democratically accountable local authority system.’
This misses the central point of the Tory coalition plans which involve nothing less than the privatisation of state education and which, far from being driven by ideological prejudices, are driven by the economic crisis of capitalism.
This was made clear last month when the Barnfield Federation, based in Luton, became the first private Further Education College in the country.
Barnfield has adopted an aggressive policy of taking over local schools in the town – four so far – and a further two schools in the neighbouring town of Dunstable, all of which are now school academies.
The head of the Barnfield Federation made it clear that he fully expects the coalition to shortly give the legal right to transform these schools into privately owned ones where investors will receive profits from their shareholdings.
These profits will inevitably come out of ‘savings’ made by cutting the pay of teaching staff and increasing the term times.
As for the vultures from the private educational sector, they can’t wait to get their hands on the education budget and make a profit through privatisation.
The call from both unions for co-ordinated strike action with one-day strikes and rolling industrial action is inadequate to meet this threat – one-day strikes will not change the mind of this government which is desperate to allow the private financiers to make profits out of public services.
It is also completely treacherous for the TUC to stand aside and allow these unions to fight alone in defence of free state education.
Free education is a vital gain for the entire working class and it must be defended by the entire trade union movement.
Teachers must demand that the TUC meet this attack by launching a general strike to bring down this government once and for all and replace it with a workers’ government that will guarantee a free state education system to meet the needs of every child.