Over the past 2 weeks, the teaching unions – NUT, NASUWT and ATL – have held their national conferences, against a backdrop of “ringfenced” school budgets which actually means real-terms reductions in funding, cuts in the building maintenance grant of 80% and the removal and/or privatisation of school support services from Birmingham City Council.
Edited to add: Head teachers association vote to ballot on strike action over pensions – getting awfully close to a general strike in education.
We know of some schools making redundancies – 37 staff going at a school for children with behavioural issues, a significant number of whose students are children in care meaning that there are not parental networks getting outraged about these redundancies which will have a significant impact on very vulnerable children.
We are also hearing news of other mainstream schools across Birmingham preparing to make redundancies amongst teaching and support staff, or not looking to replace staff who are retiring or moving to another school and the national media tells us that demand for training on handling redundancies has skyrocketed.
Meanwhile more schools declare themselves to be academies, which means that they are no longer bound by national pay and conditions agreements, and staff face working longer hours for no more pay. In the long run creating a huge amount more work for unions as they will have to negotiate individually with every academy – potentially tens of thousands of employers – rather than a single negotiation.
And finally there are pension changes, which the NUT said this about before their conference:
The attacks on teachers’ pensions, along with those of others in the public sector, have been well documented by the NUT. In summary they mean teachers will have to work longer, contribute more and get a smaller pension. The combination of a pay freeze and increased pension contributions alone will create a 12% fall in real incomes for those at work.
This attempt to make workers pay for the economic crisis is justified by reference to our ‘gold-plated’ pensions and the so called apartheid between private and public pensions. The average teachers’ pension is less than £10,000 with only 5% getting over £20,000 – so much for ‘gold plated’. The real pension scandal is the fact that many workers in private companies have no pension scheme at all while a few get vastly inflated pensions. How is the Government going to force private companies to ensure that all workers get a pension scheme? Another argument trotted out is the unaffordability of teachers’ pensions. Yet in 2007 our pension scheme was reformed and this was said to be affordable and in fact the costs of the scheme have fallen, as Hutton has confirmed.
The real reason for the attack on pensions is the Governments’ decision to pay off the debt caused by supporting the banks. They aim to make us pay for the crisis by driving down our pay and our pensions as well as attacks on our conditions of work. Rather than seek to collect in all the avoided taxes and make the wealthy pay a greater proportion of taxes the Government has decided to make those who have the least pay for their crisis.
In the previous attack on our pensions, in 2005/6, the public sector unions began to organise collectively and managed to defeat some of the major changes the Labour Government wished to impose. This wasn’t a total victory, we had to concede a two tier pension scheme and greater individual contributions, but it did give us a way to fight using collective action. We need to build on that now at both a local and a national level. Local Associations and divisions should be taking the lead in organising local public sector alliances to defend our pensions and to build action at both a local and national level.
At the conference, the NUT passed a motion in favour of co-ordinated strike action (this was almost unanimous with just 2 abstentions) over changes to the pension scheme.
ATL, who have not been involved in industrial action since 1979 also passed a motion to ballot for strike. Both unions will ballot during May for a planned strike on 30th of June – the same day that PCS are balloting for strike action (more on that in a post tomorrow).
Meanwhile, NASUWT passed a motion at their conference stating that they would be willing to undertake industrial action to defend a system of national education in the country, and passed a motion of no conference in Michael Gove, the Tory education minister.
With UCU having gone out on strike at universities last month, the education sector is looking to become a battleground for unions to defend their members and the children in school against cuts, and June 30th is set to be a huge day of strikes across the country with up to a million people out on strike that day.
All the main teaching unions seem to be lined up together with a willingness to strike and could grind the education system to a halt if they chose to do so.
This Saturday (30th April) is Birmingham’s Save our Services Mayday demonstration. Mayday is the workers bank holiday and traditionally a time for the union movement to reflect on its achievements. This year though it should be a day for unions to look forward and show a willingness for action, and provides an opportunity for everyone to come out on the streets to show their support for strikers.
This is particularly important for teachers who are often reluctant to strike because they do not want to damage any pupils education. They need to know that they have the support of parents and their community in striking to defend the education system.