By Tony Dowling
Strike action by teachers in the North East and Cumbria saw a fantastic turnout on their protest in Durham with hundreds unable to cram into the rally
Striking teachers from across the North East and Cumbria descended on Durham today to attend a regional march and rally for education. The latest joint action by members of NUT and NASUWT saw a fantastic turnout as hundreds were unable to cram into the Durham Students’ Union for the rally. With around 1,500 in attendance video screens were hastily erected in the corridors to enable everyone to see and hear the speakers.
Opening the rally, Northern TUC secretary Beth Farhat said she was proud to bring solidarity greetings and 100% support for NUT and NASUWT – representing 9 out 10 teachers. Arguing that the priority at present was to “get organised” she pledged, “Where members want it we won’t hesitate to take coordinated industrial action.”
Gateshead teacher Chris McHugh told the rally, “Nobody wants to see closures, but it’s Gove who’s solely responsible, lets make sure parents know that!”
Criticising performance-related pay Chris said the reality is that schools can only give great education when teachers are working together. “Co-operation is at the heart of all great education and learning,” he said.
And he spoke of the need for solidarity and support for other workers in struggle, including CWU, FBU and UCU colleagues involved in their own disputes. “We need to stand side-by-side with those affected by the bedroom tax and forced onto workfare schemes.”
Closing the rally, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates noted the huge support for the strike, both in the hall, from across the region, as well as at the other strikes and rallies around the country.
“So much for Gove’s claims of only minority support!” she said.
She recalled that in over three years in government the Coalition government had demonstrated nothing but contempt for ordinary people who were being made to pay the price for a crisis they didn’t create.
“Gove says the unions have no mandate,” she said, “which is a bit rich coming from a Government which has no mandate to butcher public services!”
“We’ve had enough!” she declared. “Enough of lies about education; enough denigration of teachers, pupils and schools; enough of attacks on professionals’ pay, pensions and job conditions; and enough of a policy stifling, not supporting, working-class children.”
Teachers want an education that supports all children she explained. Our children have lost their entitlement to be taught by a qualified teacher; lost their entitlement to a broad balanced curriculum; and the savage cuts to local authorities had resulted in specialist services to some of the most needy children being cut.
“Teachers are being crushed by workload and drive-by inspection, by competence and capability denigration daily.”
The professionalism of teachers was being undermined by surveillance masquerading as observation and the national pay framework for fairness was being hacked to pieces. The only pay guarantee now for teachers is their starting salary. Teaching is now the only profession where qualifications and experience no longer count.
Gove says he wants to pay good teachers more, but his lies have been exposed by chancellor George Osborne explaining there will be substantial savings by restricting pay progress.
At the same time as restricting public sector pay, Keates contrasted the £25 billion lost to the Exchequer by tax avoidance. And she pointed to the £23 billion pocketed from the Teachers Pension Scheme change from RPI to CPI.
“Time and again,” she said, “you are being asked to pay for a crisis you didn’t create.”
She finished by by countering Tory claims about UK education. “We have not plummeted the league tables,” she declared, “we are 6th in world!”
“We have a world class public education system!”
But the Tories have a deliberate strategy to reduce overheads so they can market and privatise education. The NUT and NASUWT are fighting back in defence of education.
“You’ve rattled the Secretary of State seriously!”
“All he needs to do to avoid action is meet with us! The strike is the responsibility of the Secretay of State. It is his failure, not yours.
We are not the ones damaging education. The real damage each and every day to each and every child is by this government. You are voice of children and the champion of public education. Stand up for children, young people and public services. By standing up together we will win!”
To build on the momentum of today’s enthusiastic response from teachers our unions now need to move quickly to escalate the action and call the promised national strike before Christmas. And with firefighters, postal workers, as well as college and university staff looking to take strike action now is the time for union leaders to look realistically at coordinated industrial action.
Tony Dowling is Gateshead NUT membership secretary (pc)