Members of the GMB, NASUWT and NUT, in the three schools in the Prendergast Federation in Lewisham, have escalated their strikes against the threat of the schools being turned into academies.
The unions will strike for two consecutive days on 24 and 25 March. The escalation is in response to the governors of the schools immediately beginning “formal consultation” about becoming academies rather than postponing it until after the election as they had suggested they might. Although the action will disrupt education at a critical time for some students, the unions felt they had no choice, and anecdotally many parents and students at the schools seem to agree.
Around 200 people attended the first Stop Academies in Lewisham (SAIL) demonstration. Many were pupils, workers and parents from the schools affected. The demonstration laid a solid foundation for the campaign to build on.
The campaign demands as a minimum that the Governors of Prendergast ballot parents at the schools over their plans to turn them in to academies.
Initially, students and parents at the three Prendergast schools became involved in the campaign against academisation during the imposition of an Interim Executive Board at another Lewisham school (Sedgehill) in December.
A strike by teachers against proposed academisation on 12 February led to a spontaneous walk out by students. With another strike called for 5 March, parents organised a public meeting to widen the campaign beyond the school. This focused on leafleting the community and students and getting letters to the Governors opposing the academisation, but also to put pressure on the local councillors (all but one is Labour) and the Mayor.
Outside of the teacher strikes, the most visible resistance has been led by the students. They have organised three successful walk outs at Hilly Fields (the first got cancelled, but years 11/12 didn’t get the message and walked anyway). Resistance at the two other schools has not yet been able to successfully overcome management bullying tactics.
The cabinet system in Lewisham has put most of the power in the hands of the Mayor and his “appointees”. Many councillors whilst privately in opposition, were not prepared to break cover until the Mayor came out one way or the other.
Since the Mayor came out in favour of a parental ballot last week, pressure is needed on the councillors to state publicly for the governors to withdraw there proposals. The prospective Labour MP has at the time of writing still to publicly come out in opposition. The parents and students have been solidly with the teachers in taking strike action. As exam time approaches, it is important to ensure this continues. Students will continue to campaign, and parental support against students’ victimisation is crucial. A further demonstration, building on the solid turnout on March 21, will be important to keep up momentum, so that it is not lost, but becomes a local election issue.
Resolutions and messages of support from union branches, Labour Party branches and activist groups would help bolster the campaign.
5-day strike at National Gallery
PCS union members at the National Gallery are today (24 March) starting their next five days on strike.
The strike will run until Saturday 28 March and will mean they have struck for a total of 17 days.
PCS will today launch a “people’s inquiry” into the privatisation plans at a meeting in Parliament. The inquiry will look at the privatisation plans and at why the gallery is not paying staff the London living wage, what the alternatives to outsourcing are, bullying and harassment of staff, and trade union rights.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “The National Gallery is one of our country’s greatest cultural assets, but its reputation risks being seriously undermined by this completely unnecessary privatisation.
“The public has a right to ask questions about how this decision was reached and to offer solutions to safeguard the gallery’s future.”
Strikers will hold a day of action on Thursday 26 March, with a rally at the National Gallery at 1 pm. The gallery will be picketted every day from 9-11 and on Friday from 5-6.30 pm.
Unison pay fight back on
Local government workers in Unison have overturned the leadership’s appalling sell out of the pay dispute.
The union’s special conference on 24 March voted by 62% and then 68% to re-open this year’s pay claim, fight for the living wage and equivalent flat rate increase for all workers in the run up to the general election and the first year of a new government.
It is crucial now that those branches central to this and the left launch a campaign to rebuild branch activity around pay. We have to learn the lessons from the northwest organising against the bureaucracy and coordinate branches without fear of leadership backlash.
Now is the time to build a branch based rank and file movement of local government workers not just in Unison but other unions too.
• More info here.
Care workers fight 9.5% pay cut
Unison members at Your Choice Barnet will strike on 25-27 March.
The strike is part of an on going dispute with management of the outsourced service and with Barnet council over a 9.5% pay cut.
The strikes will mean the workers have struck on 11 days since the dispute began. Unison has continually pressured the council negotiate a funding regime to keep the service working, and to discuss taking the service back in house.
Picket lines will be at the Flower Lane Day Centre, NW7 2JN and Rosa Morrison Day Centre, EN5 1NA, from 7.30 am to 3.30 pm every day.
University job cuts
London Metropolitan University has announced it will cut up to 165 jobs, 10% of its workforce in a “cost cutting measure”.
The job cuts have come as a surprise as the institution went through major restructuring to stabilise finances under the last vice-chancellor — whose £453,000 final year salary before retirement made him one of the highest paid vice-chancellors in the UK.
“We are shocked by the scale and unprecedented nature of these proposed redundancies,” said Cliff Snaith, secretary of London Met’s University and College Union branch, adding that they were “unjustified”.
Staff at Dundee university are balloting for strikes over proposed job cuts. The university plans to make 70 staff redundant on top of 55 jobs that were cut last year.