Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Now you've upset teacher...

When I was at school I knew the differences between the three teaching unions. The National Union of Teachers (NUT), including my mother, was the progressive union to which my socialist and communist teachers belonged.

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NAS/UWT) matched the NUT for sectional militancy but was less progressive on issues of educational policy (retaining in those days a somewhat retrograde position on corporal punishment that led, years later, to my friend and comrade Dick North (late of the Inner London Teachers' Association - ILTA) to refer to them as the "floggers' union").

Then there was AMMA, as it then was, the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association. This was the former grammar school teachers' union and it wasn't militant (to put it mildly). Those teachers I knew to be in it as a child were, I assumed, Tories.

Scroll forward thirty plus years and AMMA is now ATL (the Association of Teachers and Lecturers)(http://www.atl.org.uk/) and its Conference has just voted for a strike ballot over the Government's attack on public sector pensions (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23942757-teachers-union-calls-for-its-first-strike-vote-in-row-over-pensions.do).

This is a political earthquake to match any seismic activity in Japan this year. This isn't just a union that isn't eager to strike. This is a union that hasn't taken strike action before.

This Government have driven to strike action people who chose a trade union on the basis that they didn't want ever to have to take such action.

Having spent today in meetings about more than 200 of the more than 500 redundancies that my employer will propose in the coming financial year (on top of 240 redundancies - and the loss of more than 300 agency staff - up to the end of March), you might think I'd have no time to think about the attack on our pensions.

Think again.

We face a wholesale attack upon our welfare state. There are job cuts, a pay freeze, privatisation - and attacks on pensions, which are - to a considerable extent - intended to facilitate that privatisation.

We are at war with an illegitimate Government which has no mandate for its attempt to roll back the gains of the postwar settlement. We must pick our fights because they will use the full force of the state to crush us if they can. Cameron is Thatcher on speed.

The national fight to defend public service pensions is the battle we can win. The decision of ATL reflects the determination, at UNISON's last NEC meeting, of colleagues with whom I don't often see eye to eye.

If we can't join a strike on 30 June we need to do all we can to support it (as we embark upon a ballot which must surely see us commence action no later than the week of Tory Party Conference). Where there are local trade disputes, let us strike on that date. Where there aren't, let us press Headteachers to close schools, and where they won't then let us make clear that, law or no law, we will give total support to workers who comply with the higher law - thou shalt not cross a picket line.

Let 30 June be the opening salvo in a battle to defend public service pensions - and let the end of that battle be the day when Cameron, like Thatcher before him, is driven out of Downing Street.

This is the battleground on which we can defeat our enemy.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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