After the 24 April strike against pay cuts and restructuring at Central Foundation Girls School in East London, school management are showing signs of shifting. They have backtracked from cutting support staff pay this year.
This has only happened because of the united action taken by members of the NUT and Unison. But management still plan to cut pay next year.
CFGS workers plan another strike around 11 May.
This dispute is a breath of fresh air blowing through the local labour movement, which had been demoralised by the surrender of the national union leaderships in the pensions battle.
What are the lessons to be learned from the CFGS dispute so far?
Unity: The NUT and Unison have worked together and prevented management from dividing them by using different tactics, holding separate staff meetings and offering different solutions for teachers and support staff.
Organisation: From the start of the dispute, both unions held regular joint meetings, ensured the use of a strike fund and produced a strike bulletin for all the staff in the school. No member of staff is uninformed about the dispute or uncertain as to how they can get involved.
Democracy: All decisions made in relation to the next steps in the dispute have been made by the members themselves and on the basis of regular votes. The reps have provided leadership, but it is not the stifling, top-down version provided by the national executives of our unions.
The attitude throughout has been: why would we agree to lie down and do nothing when you are cutting our pay and jobs? Why would we allow you to do this to us without a fight? Why do you think we would agree to pay with our livelihoods for a budget crisis that is not of our making? There is no reason why we should.
We must not take any responsibility for the crisis — whether local or national. When governments need to find cash to resolve a crisis that they want resolved they can.
The government found £1.5bn in February this year to pay off PFI bills in the NHS because they knew it would be too damaging if the NHS crumbled too quickly. In Tower Hamlets in 1998, the Rotherhithe Tunnel was closed for maintenance works by Tower Hamlets council. The works were likely to be shut through Christmas, affecting the takings of the shops in Docklands and Canary Wharf. The businesses pooled together and paid up £100k to get the work done. When bosses and the rich need the money, it’s there. They just choose not to spend it on us, and then try to tell us there isn’t any. This is nonsense. We must not fall for it.
What will help CFGS workers win? Solidarity. Other schools and public services in Tower Hamlets must invite speakers from CFGS, support them on their picket lines and, more importantly, when they are faced with restructures and cuts, follow suit using CFGS as a template for how to win.
From the Tower Hamlets Class Struggle bulletin