Activists from Manchester, Birmingham, and London share their impressions of today’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) strike against academisation and other problems facing teachers and students.
NUT rep Chris Evans writes:
Around 700 teachers and supporters rallied at Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens during today’s strike against growing workloads, class sizes and academisation. There was a healthy mix of young and older teachers on the demonstration and the atmosphere was positive.
The relatively small size of the demonstration was due partly to the details of the demo only being announced the day before. Teachers were clear that we now need to rebuild the momentum in the fight against austerity and academisation.
Aaron South writes from Birmingham:
Over 1000 teachers marched through Birmingham in a lively demonstration in support of the NUT strike. I’d say there’s been a good reception to the strike call, with members responding when the issues were explained. In my school one member each came over from the ATL and the NASUWT (without any argument from me) and two others who weren’t in any union signed up, leading to a much better turn out than the last pensions strike two years ago and a complete school closure.
There have been reports that in places the low turn out in the ballot has dampened some peoples spirits, but to be honest I think that if you put the arguments with a will to win you will get a hearing – if you don’t, you won’t.
Andrew Stone: ‘Teachers invest in action’
Over 10,000 striking teachers protested in London today, alongside mass rallies and demonstrations in Bristol, Sussex, Birmingham, Durham and many other cities. Our union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), was taking action against the government’s broad-ranging attack on education funding and regulation. We received vocal support from passers by, and, despite the government’s predictable and hypocritical smears about us damaging students’ education, parents groups such as Rescue Our Schools and Parents Defending Education.
And no wonder. This is a government that has ridden roughshod over the wishes of parents and students. Its Education White Paper removed the requirement for parent governors as part of its academisation drive. It is remorselessly imposing high stakes tests within primary school, despite well-founded complaints that they are developmentally inappropriate and damaging to many children’s mental health. And now it is imposing the real terms cuts on primary and secondary schools which up until now have mainly fallen on the pre-school and post-16 sectors.
These cuts are produced by a cash freeze for primary and secondary schools. And it’s not just inflation that eats into the value of this – Chancellor George Osborne has increased the contributions that schools make to national insurance and pensions, worth about 5% of the teacher pay bill. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that this will result in 8% cuts by 2020. Acting General Secretary Kevin Courtney is thus absolutely right to say that Education Minister Nicky Morgan is ‘deceiving the public’ when she falsely claims that the government is protecting real terms funding.
The results of these cuts are already beginning to be felt – with class sizes swelling, courses cut and redundancies increasing for both teaching and support staff. Combine them with the hideously misnamed ‘Fairer funding formula’, which seeks to level down funding by cutting money to some of the poorest boroughs (that have historically attracted greater support) by up to 20%, and it’s clear that the pain will only get much worse unless we win this fight.
There are encouraging signs that the mood is there to do so. Though the strike ballot returned an overwhelming 92% ‘yes’ vote, there was understandable disappointment, despite the effort put in by the union leadership and a layer of activists, that the turnout was only 25%. This does suggest that the organising agenda within the union still has some way to go. But it also reflects some initial confusion over Nicky Morgan’s apparent u-turn over forced academisation, which turned out to be all smoke and mirrors, as well as perhaps a level of complacency by some members that the vote would be won regardless.
But now battle has commenced many members are alert to the importance of taking a stand. The NUT are reporting an unprecedented 6,000 new members joining in the run up to the strike. Over 100 have joined in my own association, Wandsworth. For years we have struggled to go beyond a small group of stalwarts. The average local meeting ‘attracted’ around 10 members. In April over 50 came to debate the planned strike over academisation. We have a number of new reps, starting to organise in previously passive schools, and loads of new faces were on our delegation on the protest today. Lots of associations report a similar spike in interest – we must make sure that we involve these members and support them without trying to patronise or substitute for them.
Finally, a few impressions of the protest and rally:
- It seemed louder than normal. Teachers, despite being used to raising our voices, have not always been quick to chant or sloganise. But there was clear anger on the streets, and the boos and cries of ‘shame’ as we passed Downing Street were justifiably intense.
- The Junior Doctor from the BMA received a brilliant reception. The news that she and her colleagues had voted against the rotten deal negotiated by their leaders was greeted warmly. When she spoke about united action across the public sector it got rapturous applause. The joint demo organised during the last junior doctors’ strike, as well as the mutual visits to picket lines, have helped to create a great solidaristic dynamic that can be further built upon.
- Jeremy Corbyn’s support was also welcomed very vocally. Of Angela Eagle’s view there was no sign.
- The most vociferous cheering came when Kevin Courtney condemned the racist divide and rule of the EU referendum campaign, and spelled out very clearly that it is austerity behind rising class sizes, not immigration, and that we would defend migrants working and studying in our schools.
- Kevin also gave a clear commitment that, barring a meaningful retreat by the government, further strike action would follow in the autumn term. This is what we needed to hear – that today was not a one-day protest strike, but part of an escalating campaign to win. So we need to go back to our colleagues, and talk to parents and communities, and regroup in the autumn even bigger and stronger.
If you want to add your thoughts on the NUT’s strike action in your area, please comment below or send an email and any pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org