AROUND 100,000 teachers in England and Wales took strike action yesterday, joining rail workers, civil servants, university lecturers and bus drivers in the biggest day of strike action for over a decade.
This is the first teachers’ strike since 2008 when, following a 24 hour strike in April that year which closed virtually every school in England, the National Union of Teachers (the forerunner of the NEU) called off the strike, despite a majority of their members voting to continue the action.
The resolve of teachers is not in doubt, the resolve of union officials always is. The current round of strikes comes as the Government is rushing through the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill to make it harder for ‘essential workers’ to take strike action and to allow employers to sack anybody who strikes if their employer has told them not to strike.
1st February was designated by the TUC as ‘protect the right to strike’ day. A series of rallies was held throughout England and Wales. In London, Paul Nowak, the new TUC General Secretary, warned, “This is not going to go away, these problems won’t magically disappear.” But, instead of a general strike, the TUC held a rally and launched a petition.
As one teacher said, “Teachers are using food banks despite working sixty hour weeks (paid for 37 of course). It’s deplorable.”
Although there is a series of strikes planned throughout February, it is clear that the Government has no intention of backing down. Rather than do what Paul Nowak asks and “come to the table”, the Government is busy changing the rules to make it impossible to have a legal strike.
The unions need to be bold and take action that will force the political class to realise that these disputes are not just about pay but are also a matter of giving workers some basic respect, of protecting jobs and public services for the future and of ensuring that the services they are providing meet the needs of the people who use them. To do that it is going to take more than platitudes and fine rhetoric.
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