|Volume 53 Number 4, February 4, 2023
Over 100,000 teachers in England and Wales (with some estimates quoting double this figure) began their biggest wave of strike action on 30 years on February 1, with 85% of schools across the country affected, according to the National Education Union (NEU).
The strike was part of a coordinated day of strikes, dubbed "Walkout Wednesday" and what the TUC has called the biggest day of strike action since 2011, which also saw action held by university lecturers, university and college librarians, security guards, border force workers, and train and bus drivers. The disputes centre on pensions, pay, jobs and conditions, and the future of public services and social programmes. It is estimated that about half a million workers were on strike. The affirmation that "Enough is Enough" has been the spark to signify that the working class is determined to take centre stage. Significantly, the actions were held the day after over a million people demonstrated in France over attacks to state pensions.
Teachers specifically are demanding a fully-funded pay increase to counter the combined effect of recent rising inflation on top of ten years' worth of real-term pay cuts. According to the NEU, "pay cuts and high workload are hitting teacher recruitment and retention hard, causing real damage to education".
Teachers are questioning the very future of education that is being unsustainably underfunded and undermined. As well as a pay level that has fallen 23% in real terms since 2010, leaving some teachers in desperate conditions, teachers cite rising class sizes, access to support for special educational needs, a crisis in recruitment and retention of staff, schools that are in a state of disrepair to the point of real danger, and so on. The conditions are pointing in the direction of the need to ask what kind of education system is required, and that it is with teachers themselves that the solution to the crisis lies.
Teachers and other striking workers organised demonstrations in various towns and cities. Thousands of people gathered in London to march to Downing Street and Whitehall to, in particular, speak out in opposition to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which seeks to restrict the ability of workers to defend themselves yet further. The "Enough is Enough" campaign in particular called on workers to join in the opposition to this anti-worker, anti-social Bill, and took action on February 1.
Among other large demonstrations was that in Bristol on February 1 when approaching 6,000 teachers took to the streets. After gathering at College Green, the striking teachers marched to the city centre for a lively rally. "The fundamental reason we're striking today is not just because of pay conditions," said one teacher, quoted by the Bristol Post. "It's the complete and utter lack of funding in education, which is single-handedly destroying the system and those that put every effort to educate our children."
Upholding the right to strike, over a thousand people gathered in Cardiff city centre on February 1. Many militant speeches were made attacking the government and its anti-trade union policies. More demonstrations are planned, as the people of Wales stand up to defend their rights.
In Oxford, hundreds assembled at New Inn Hall Street, marched through the city, and after passing the iconic Radcliffe Camera library building, held a rally on Broad Street.
Lucy Coleman, joint Oxfordshire branch secretary of the NEU, said: "Teachers are leaving and we are finding it impossible to recruit both teachers and support staff," pointing out that "people here today include teachers, university lecturers, parents and school pupils."
"The real impact of the lack of government funding for schools over the past 12 years is pupils are not getting the education they deserve," she added.
Nearly 300 teachers and concerned people rallied in St Thomas Square, Newport, on the Isle of Wight. The rally was vibrant with short speeches from the participants and solidarity messages from other trade unions.
The gathering was characterised by serious discussion among teachers and other participants, such as the role of teachers, the nature of what they do, and the state of the education system today. A poem, enthusiastically and eloquently delivered from the platform on this very subject by a young teacher, was well-received by the participants. Other discussions were around issues such as how the unions can strengthen their coordinated defence and organisation in the face of attacks, in conditions where government is arbitrary and refuses to negotiate.
February 1 was the first of seven days of action. Further strikes have been planned for February 14 and 28, and March 1, 2, 15 and 16. Joint general secretaries of the NEU, Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, said that Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, "has until our next strike day for England, February 28, to change her stance. NEU members do not want to go on strike again. They want constructive talks that deal directly with the long-standing concerns they experience in their schools and colleges every day. So that they can get back to doing what they do best, working with pupils in the classroom."
"However, be in no doubt that our members will do whatever it takes to stand up for education, including further strike action, if Gillian Keegan still fails to step up with concrete and meaningful proposals."
Agreements to Negotiate
Welsh Ambulance Service strikes were suspended after the Senedd made a pay offer of both a consolidated and non-consolidated one off payment for 1922/23 - on top of the already imposed 4.5 per cent. The Welsh Government has confirmed negotiations for 23/24 will begin almost immediately. Almost 1,500 workers across the country had been due to walk in on Monday, February 6. This follows intense negotiations between GMB and the Welsh Government and Welsh Ambulance.
Strike action set for February 7 by Royal College of Midwives (RCM) members across Wales has been paused following a new pay offer from the Welsh government. The RCM will also be suspending action short of a strike planned for February 7-14. The RCM will now be moving quickly to consult its midwife and maternity support worker members on the new offer, which followed talks with the Welsh Government yesterday and today. Further talks are planned to address issues around staffing shortages, working conditions and pressures on services.
TSSA members involved in the dispute over pay and pensions on London's Elizabeth Line have agreed to suspend industrial action until the beginning of March. This follows a one-day walkout by members on January 12, which halted large parts of Transport for London's flagship route, with action short of a strike ongoing from that date. This was the first industrial action on the line since it opened in May 2022.
(Sources: Workers' Weekly reporters, Bristol Post, Evening
Standard, Oxford Mail.)
PCS Home Office picket
PCS rally, Buchanan Street, Glasgow
PCS picket, Shetland Coastguard