On Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 April, National Union of Teachers’ (NUT) members at Forest Hill school in Lewisham struck for the fifth time in their on-going dispute against a management proposed restructuring to deal with a £1.3 million deficit. The management’s proposal sheds 15 teaching jobs, significantly increases teachers’ workload, radically reduces the depth of the creative aspects of the curriculum, ends any specialist English as an Additional Language (EAL) support, and massively diminishes the support for students with Special Educational Needs.
In addition to the strikes, there was a demonstration on Saturday 22 April with well over 200 people in attendance, including many councillors and Labour Party members. Furthermore, on Monday 24 April a teacher from the school and another supporter, who were both members of the Labour Party, addressed the Labour Group on the council. This is all part of pressure the campaign is exerting on the council to intervene decisively.
Joe Cowley, the NUT representative at the school, spoke to Solidarity: “The mood is defiant. The head sent a letter out today trying to claim that the only issue was teachers’ workload and making no mention of the effect on the students. He also wrote ‘please be assured that the school is working quickly to end the current damaging period of industrial action’ which has angered my members further, as management have made no attempt to address our concerns whatsoever or enter into meaningful negotiations.”
“The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASWUT) National Executive has shown no commitment to either their members jobs, conditions or the education of the children. They announced a strike for the 3 May. We quickly announced we would go out alongside them. However, they equally rapidly called off their strike with nothing more than a commitment to talks. We respect NASUWT members; however, their leadership has never shown any inclination to fight alongside us.’’
“I believe there will be no resolution without the council’s active involvement.
“Management have not addressed or even acknowledged the issues. They are not being honest with us, with the students, the parents and possibly not even with themselves. They have a total disregard for the truth of the situation.”
“The demonstration was very inspiring both in terms of the amount of people who came out to support us and in the amount of effort people put in to build it.”
“Our union group is going to have another planning meeting after the picket line on the 25th. I believe there is a real appetite for more strike action.”
Cinema workers to strike on May Day
Workers at five Picturehouse cinemas across London struck on Saturday 15 April. Workers at Duke of York′s cinema in Brighton were also due to strike, but their strike was called off a few days before. The strike was the first for workers at East Dulwich Picturehouse in south London, and they were greeted on the picket line by a demonstration of workers from the other cinemas and supporters from the labour movement. Picturehouse management tried to aggressively ″manage″ the picket line, taking photos of pickets and their supporters, trying to prevent people talking to customers, and calling the police to attend the picket line (who left without doing anything). Workers will be striking again on Monday 1 May.
• For motions and how to donate to the strike fund, see here
London Bridge strike
London Underground station workers at London Bridge will strike on 7-8 May to demand the reinstatement of colleague Lee Cornell. Lee was sacked after intervening with a fare evader who had assaulted a pregnant colleague. As well as the strike, Tube union RMT has also called industrial action short of a strike, whereby members will not service ticket machines or challenge any passengers about their tickets or Oyster Cards.
Jobs fight goes on
Tube bosses are set to reveal their plans to increase the station staffing level by 325 jobs, as part of concessions they made following a station workers' strike in January.
A union activist told Solidarity: "Reversing 325 of the job cuts management has made is significant, and something we wouldn't have won without taking action. When management announce their proposals for where these 325 jobs will go, we may need to have a series of additional fights, for example if management propose to reinsert jobs at a lower grade than the ones they cut.
“Ultimately, 325 additional jobs still isn't enough, and we'll continue to fight for a properly staffed Tube."
NUT: close vote on Labour
Pending the merger of the NUT and the ATL to form the New Education Union (NEU), this year's NUT conference (Easter, in Cardiff) was never likely to be a hotbed of political debate or controversy.
There were very few areas of contention anticipated, but as the weekend unfolded three points of interest became clear on the conference floor.
Firstly, conference voted to call a day of strike action against funding cuts in regions where a strong turnout was felt to be possible. A one day strike is far from ideal, and in many ways could be seen as a strategic error given our recent dismal history of isolated one day strikes losing us all a day's pay and winning nothing. However, it is the last chance the NUT have to use our live ballot before the merger. If it is made a success it will perhaps set the tone as the joint executives meet to discuss plans for action in the year ahead.
Secondly, conference voted to strengthen our position in solidarity with trans teachers and students. A motion was passed to push the government to change the law to enable self-identification. This did not pass unopposed. A current within the union argued to amend the motion and replace taking an immediate position with opening a period of consultation. The justification for this seemed to be radical feminist position that suggested women's rights within the union and the classroom would be compromised by a strengthened position in favour of trans rights. The amendment fell and the motion passed unammended.
Thirdly, a passionate but staggered and truncated debate was had over primary testing. While a motion was passed reaffirming our opposition to SATs and committing us to prepare for an indicative ballot of primary members to boycott SATs, a stronger motion arguing for all primary members to be balloted to boycott all formal summative testing was defeated.
We won the argument to defeat a wrecking amendment from the executive, but lost the vote on the main motion after the Socialist Teachers' Alliance (now know as the socialist testing alliance), supported by the SWP, manoeuvred to shut down debate and voted against taking decisive action.
Some of the most vocal critics of SATs, self-defining socialists, suddenly became ardent defenders of summative testing. This debacle yet again shows the cynicism and incoherence of the so-called left who are so full of warm words but desperate to avoid taking serious action, or even having a democratic debate.
Disappointingly, by a very small margin, conference also voted against exploring a new kind of relationship with the Labour Party, thus ruling out affiliation. This was despite the fact that John McDonnell received a standing ovation after speaking at the opening of conference. The most positive outcome of conference was the mobilising of delegates around the rank and file network (LANAC), which exposed the empty rhetoric of the leadership and proved itself again to be utterly vital. This organisation must grow if the NEU is to move beyond left posturing and be an actual force for change.
DOO strikes continue
Workers at Northern, Merseyrail, Southern continue to fight to defend the role of the guard on the train. Workers at Northern and Southern rail will strike on Friday 28 April. Strikes had also been planned on 28-29 April, but were called off on Monday 24 April for talks with the employer.
The RMT had put strikes on hold on Merseyrail for talks with the employer, but after Merseyrail refused to budge on any point those talks collapsed. A national demonstration against Driver Only Operation will be held outside Parliament on Wednesday 26 April on the anniversary of the Southern dispute starting.
UCLU cleaners strike
Cleaners at the UCL student union struck on Friday 21 April. As previously reported in Solidarity, UCL students union is cutting the cleaning budget by £90k, and as a result cleaning company Secura Clean is cutting the hours of cleaners. Cleaners picketed the student union, and were joined by students who held a demonstration.