Everyone agrees. Education, like all the public sector, is facing an unprecedented attack. The Tory led Coalition Government is seeking to reverse all the gains made by the public education service since the 1950’s. We are witnessing the demise of local authorities as education providers, pressure to make all secondary, primary and special schools academies and even PRUs being privatised, attacks on pensions, the possible introduction of regional pay, a pay freeze and many attacks on our conditions of service. In the face of such a sustained assault how should teachers and their unions respond?
In the pension campaign the NUT has sought to build an alliance of unions within education and within the public sector. For a while we were successful in this and the magnificent strike on November 30th was the high point of this campaign. However, the decision of the leaders of Unison, the GMB and the ATL to accept the Government’s terms left the ‘rejectionist’ unions very isolated. In response to this the NUT leadership has developed a ‘Joint declaration of intent’ with the NASUWT as well as continuing discussions with the other ‘rejectionist’ unions.
The declaration represents a clear commitment to joint campaigning around all the issues that affect education, from jobs, to conditions of service, to pensions, to pay, to funding etc. This joint campaign involves working ‘jointly on political lobbying, public campaigns, research and negotiation, together with a jointly coordinated programme of industrial action, including action short of strike action and strike action’. By signing up to this declaration the two unions are committed to action, including strike action, over a range of issues. Clearly this is a major step forward for teachers and education.
What then are the tasks of the activists in the NUT? First, is to ensure that there is a massive turnout in the ballot opening on June 25th as well as an overwhelming vote for action. This must be the priority task for militants across England and Wales. We need to show the Government that the past year has not dented the determination of the NUT to defend the education system.
Secondly, we need to establish a programme of joint work with the NASUWT at both a national and local level. Where there are attacks on our conditions in a school, or where there is bullying by a Head or school leader, or where a school is demanding excess work from our members, or using the capability procedures to drive teachers out, we need to make sure both unions are responding in a collective way. This will probably require joint school meetings or even joint association or division meetings. We need to show that both unions are serious about these campaigns.
Thirdly, we need to discuss with the NASUWT locally how strike action can be used to defend education and our members. We need to put pressure on both Executives to commit to a series of strikes to defend education. However, we also need to see this as part of the campaign to defend public services and campaign for joint action, both strike and non-strike, with other unions to defend the public services. In the localities we need to be organising local committees of public sector unions and the campaign groups to co-ordinate and strengthen our actions.
Fourthly, we need to give solidarity to all those fighting the Government and its austerity programme. Not just in education but across society in general. Internationally, we also need to support those fighting austerity, whether in Greece, Spain, Ireland or even Germany. Not only will this increase the confidence of those in struggle but we can begin to pose the question of what alternative we are fighting for.
Lastly, we need to make the call by the TUC for a demonstration on October 20th a massive show of strength by the unions and campaigning groups to show the Government that there is an alternative, an alternative that doesn’t make the poorest pay for the crisis they didn’t cause, but makes the bosses, the bankers and the financiers pay for their crisis.
The joint declaration by the NUT and the NASUWT cannot remain as well-meaning words on a piece of paper. We need to ensure that it becomes a way of organising a collective response to the crisis of capitalism.