TRADE UNION leaders representing millions of the public sector workers striking in defence of their pensions tomorrow angrily rebutted Education Secretary Michael Gove’s attacks on teachers yesterday.
In a speech at the think tank Policy Exchange, Gove accused ‘union militants’ of wanting families to be inconvenienced.
He said: ‘They want mothers to give up a day’s work, or pay for expensive childcare, because schools will be closed.
‘They want teachers and other public sector workers to lose a day’s pay in the run-up to Christmas.
‘They want scenes of industrial strife on our TV screens. They want to make economic recovery harder – they want to provide a platform for confrontation just when we all need to pull together.’
He admitted: ‘I must warn parents that many schools are going to close. The overwhelming majority, north of 90%.’
In response, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National of Teachers, said: ‘This dispute has been created by a government which is determined to steamroller through pension reform that will irreparably damage teachers’ pensions.
‘The issue has united the teaching profession, as will be demonstrated on November 30.
‘This strike has nothing to do with “militants” but everything to do with teachers and head teachers who do not believe the Government is being fair or reasonable.
‘In talking about teachers’ retirement ages, Michael Gove ignores the fact that those retiring earlier than their new pension age of 68 would face very substantial reductions in their pensions.
‘More significantly, he ignores the fact that working to 68 simply won’t be physically possible for many and is not in the interests of either pupils or teachers.’
Mary Bousted, general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘Instead of engaging in megaphone diplomacy, which is likely to annoy teachers even more than they are already, Mr Gove must be prepared for a bit more give and take in the ongoing talks with us and the other education unions.’
The PCS union pointed to the fact that the public support the strikes, saying: ‘A BBC poll released today shows overwhelming support for the strike, and overwhelmingly people feel that Gove’s government is mishandling the economy.
‘Gove’s speech smacks more of desperation than opinion and will fall on deaf ears.’
Meanwhile, applications to join Unison have jumped a massive 126% since the result of the union’s ballot for strike action was announced, with an overwhelming 81% of these applications coming from women.
Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary, said yesterday: ‘Throughout the pensions dispute, public sector workers have been joining Unison in their droves. And the applications to join are coming overwhelmingly from women – a whopping 81%.
‘Public sector workers are turning to their union for support – not this government.
‘The government is trying to paint a picture of macho union leaders squaring up for a fight, but it will be mainly women public sector workers out in force on November 30 – women who are angry and feel let down by the pension changes.
‘Their aggressive policies – policies that are hitting women hard – are turning them off.
‘The applications to join spike every time Danny Alexander is on his feet in the house, talking about his plans for public sector pensions.
‘The day he made his statement in the house, on the eve of our ballot result, saw the largest spike in Unison membership ever recorded.’