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Volume 53 Number 5, February 11, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Teachers' Actions and the Future of Education

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis

The Teachers' Actions and the Future of Education

University Strikes Escalate

Workers' Forum:
Unprecedented Strike Struggle of Health Workers to Defend their Rights

Protest in Ireland Declares:
No to War, No to NATO!


The Teachers' Actions and the Future of Education


Photo: SchoolsWeek

The actions taken by working people continued in the past week in defence of their rights and interests. Some actions have been suspended after employers agreed to make new offers, though it remains to be seen whether these offers are acceptable to the sections of working people involved. It appears that this will also be the case with the teachers' struggle.

In beginning their largest wave of strike action in thirty years, teachers in their hundreds of thousands across England and Wales have exposed for all to see that the very future of education is at stake.

As Workers' Weekly recently reported [1], teachers 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 National Education Union (NEU), "pay cuts and high workload are hitting teacher recruitment and retention hard, causing real damage to education".

The struggle for a properly funded and modern education system has been going on for many years [2]. Teachers are questioning the very future of education that is being unsustainably underfunded and undermined. 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. Forms can and must be found to empower them to discuss and provide the solutions themselves.


Photo: SchoolsWeek

In modern society, education needs to help nurture the modern human being, so that people are full participants in society. The kind of education that is required by the times is one that prepares people to speak in their own name and to discuss and reach unity with each other, rather than divide into warring factions. A crucial role for education is to educate people with this aim, and to nurture the human-centred outlook that is needed.

Out of their direct experience of fighting the introduction of and successive huge rises in university fees, school and university staff are acutely conscious that education is a right. Everyone has the right to the highest standard of education that a modern society can provide, and the issue is how society should be organised to fulfil that right. Education itself plays a role in forming the conception in individuals that people have rights by virtue of being human.

The crisis has developed to a point where the block to discussing the future of education must be overcome, with teachers themselves at the forefront of this discussion.

Notes

[1] "Mass Rallies Held as Teachers Begin Strike Action along with Other Sections of Working People", Workers' Weekly, February 4, 2023
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-23/ww23-04/ww23-04-01.htm

[2] For example:

"Teachers' and Educators' Struggles", Workers' Weekly, May 12, 2018
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-18/ww18-14/ww18-14-04.htm
"Taking the Capital-Centred School System to a New Level", Workers' Weekly, October 15, 2016
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-16/ww16-23/ww16-23-03.htm
"Academies: The Creation of a Capital-Centred School System", Workers' Weekly, June 28, 2016
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-16/ww16-15/ww16-15-04.htm
"Oppose Gove's Programme to Dismantle the Education System", Workers' Weekly, March 9, 2013
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-13/ww13-08.htm#lead
"For an Education System that Serves the Progress of Society", Workers' Weekly, July 28, 2009
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wdie-09/d09-053.htm#lead
"Raising the Question of Education", Workers' Weekly, March 4, 2008
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wdie-08/d08-031.htm

Article Index



The Future of Education

University Strikes Escalate


Edinburgh - Photo:TheStudent

Two further days of strike action by university staff went ahead this past week after they rejected the employers' pay offer. Over 70,000 staff at all of the 150 universities across the UK took action on February 9 and 10, engaging in pickets and refusing to teach.

The actions follow the ballot where 80% of members of the UCU (University and College Union) voted to reject the latest offer from employers, worth only 5% for most union members. The UCU reports that over 30,000 of its members responded to the online poll which was open for just four days.

The National Union of Students (NUS) backed staff taking the strike action, which impacted on 2.5 million students. The UCU said that university negotiators are "in hiding" and need to engage properly in negations if they want to prevent a further 15 days of strike action from going ahead over the next two months.

The UCU reports: "Despite staff emphatically rejecting the 5% pay award, employers have not yet responded with an improved offer. Employers have also continually failed to address insecure employment practices and workloads, two issues that are central to this dispute. There are over 90,000 university staff on insecure contracts and staff work an average of two extra days unpaid per week."


London - Photo: NSSN

In the contention over pensions, the UCU is demanding that employers revoke the cuts and restore benefits. The package of cuts made last year will see the average member lose 35% of their guaranteed future retirement income. For those at the beginning of their career the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. This is completely unacceptable.

The UCU notes: "The sector holds more than £44bn in reserves and has a yearly income of over £42bn. Employers have admitted it would cost just 3% of their reserves to settle UCU's pay claim. The highest paid vice-chancellor earned £714,000 in 2021/22. Last week Kay Burley asked for any of the sector's 150 vice-chancellors to be interviewed by her on Sky News and account for the state of higher education. Not one has volunteered."

The strike action of university staff is clearly a component part of the movement to demand that working people must not be made to suffer the burden of the austerity demands of the employers and the state, with its attendant cost-of-living crisis. The stand of the movement of every section of working people can be summed up in the fact that No Means No!

With the UCU members, the actions follow on from their growing struggles of last year. In November, three days of action were held over the course of a week, culminating in the holding of the largest demonstration and rally in the union's history in central London. In fact, there has been a long-running battle to safeguard the future of education by fighting attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions.

The current conditions of economic crisis, wrecking of social programmes and rising inflation have sharpened all of the issues further. "In the pay and working conditions dispute," wrote the UCU in November, "the union's demands include a meaningful pay rise to deal with the cost-of-living crisis as well as action to end the use of insecure contracts and deal with dangerously high workloads. Employers imposed a pay rise worth just 3% this year following over a decade of below inflation pay awards. On average university staff do two days additional work unpaid per week, whilst a third of academic staff are on some form of temporary contract."

The union continued: "In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts and restore benefits. The package of cuts made earlier this year will see the average member lose 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income. For those at the beginning of their careers the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds."

"The UK university sector generated record income of £41.1bn last year with the 150 vice-chancellors facing action collectively earning an estimated £45 million," the UCU noted, hitting at the disinformation over so-called affordability. UCU said that the sector can more than afford to meet staff demands.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said of the present action: "It is no surprise that university staff have overwhelmingly rejected a low-ball 5% offer from employers, this is a huge real-terms pay cut that would leave our members worse off. We are striking for 48 hours this week and will take escalating action until we get a fair deal."


Bristol - Photo: Naz Masoumi

Dr Grady added: "We have repeatedly asked bosses to explain why they refuse to deal with the issues that blight higher education. Yet they refuse to publicly justify their position. We know the bosses are in hiding because their position is indefensible."

NUS vice-president for higher education Chloe Field said: "The vice-chancellors in charge of our universities would rather see students face disruption on a scale we have never seen before than pay staff what they are worth. Every day of teaching we lose is completely the fault of vice-chancellors who refuse to pay their staff properly."

Chloe Field has always emphasised that students stand in solidarity with university staff going on strike. At the time of the November actions, she was quoted as saying: "We have always been clear that staff working conditions are students' learning conditions, and for more than a decade both have come under attack from a sector that puts profits above education. Staff work hard to deliver a world-class experience for students, but more and more are struggling under the pressures of increased workloads, falling pay, cuts to their pensions and insecure work. Universities and employers should agree to UCU's demands. We exist in the same system and our struggles are inextricably linked. Only by coming together and showing solidarity with each other can we achieve the real and lasting change we want for everyone who works and studies in this country."


Enough Is Enough rally, Liverpool - Photo: Liverpool Echo

As Workers' Weekly has pointed out throughout this struggle [1], imposition and refusal to negotiate aims to disrupt the formation of an outlook that recognises that higher education workers, whether academic or support staff, add huge value to the economy. The work done by university staff produces highly skilled graduates and postgraduates with a massive productive capacity, and in a more general sense contributes to the cultural level of society; the universities themselves give rise to scientific and technological advances. It is important that this value is recognised. Not only is it not recognised, it is not realised; that is, its value is not paid for by those that utilise it. Enterprises, particularly big business, benefit directly through their highly-educated workforce and the science and technology they employ, for which they do not pay. This is coming to head particularly now where, in conditions of permanent and all-round crisis, "affordability" is being used a smokescreen for outright wrecking of social programmes.

Economic issues are intimately connected with the nature of the university system itself and what higher education is for. Education is a right and should serve the people. Academics and higher education workers in struggle for their rights and conditions are fighting for the rights of all. It is an issue of control over the direction society is headed, as an educated population is key to a new direction of the economy and democracy. In this sense the workers and academics are forming the new outlook where people can think and act in their own name. This is the pathway opening for the workers to take control over their lives and destiny and constituting themselves as the authority.

As the UCU says, "workers everywhere are rising up and saying enough is enough." Workers' Weekly continues to fully support the university staff and wishes them every success in their actions, in common with all those in action to declare that Enough is Enough!

Note

[1] For coverage and analysis over the course of the dispute, see:

"UCU Members at 27 Universities Stage Five-Day Strike", Workers' Weekly, April 2, 2022
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-22/ww22-07/ww22-07-03.htm
"University Staff Continue their Struggle", Workers' Weekly, March 26, 2022
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-22/ww22-06/ww22-06-14.htm
"Interviews with Striking University Staff", Workers' Weekly, February 29, 2020
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-20/ww20-07/ww20-07-03.htm
"University Lecturers Embark on 14 Days of Strikes to Persist in and Widen their Struggle", Workers' Weekly, February 22, 2020
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-20/ww20-06/ww20-06-02.htm
"University Lecturers Persist in and Widen the Struggle in Defence of Pensions and to Safeguard the Future of Higher Education", Workers' Weekly, February 8, 2020
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-20/ww20-05/ww20-05-01.htm
"University Lecturers Strike to Defend their Pension Rights and Safeguard Higher Education", Workers' Weekly, April 7, 2018
http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-18/ww18-09/ww18-09-01.htm

Article Index



Workers' Forum

Unprecedented Strike Struggle of Health Workers to Defend their Rights


RCN striking nurses

This week nurses, members of the RCN, and ambulance workers in Unison, Unite and GMB unions staged the third and largest health workers' strike ever in England. The health workers' strike follows on last week's co-ordinated "Walkout Wednesday" strikes by an estimated 500,000 workers from the NEU, PCS, UCU, ASLEF and RMT. What has been a brutal decade of standstill wages for workers right across the economy has left workers badly exposed to skyrocketing bills as well as for all NHS staff and particularly low paid health and care workers.

Health workers are today earning thousands of pounds a year less - in real terms - than in 2010. According to a report by the TUC, last year nurses' real pay was down £5,200 compared to 2010; porters' real pay was down by £2,500 compared to 2010; maternity care assistants' real pay was down by £4,300 compared to 2010; paramedics' real pay was down by £6,700 compared to 2010 and this trend continued into this year. This has resulted in health workers saying enough is enough and launching such powerful strike struggles over the last weeks and months.


Unison ambulance strike, south east

In doing so the health workers are conscious that they are driven to this by the whole attack on the health care system in Britain by the Westminster government, who are deliberately wrecking the NHS as a vital public service and hiving off whole sectors to private companies for profit. Workers' Forum in speaking to the nurses on the picket line and noting their comments found that almost every one raised the issue of the broad attack on their conditions linked to the fate of the health care system and particularly the NHS. Vast numbers of people in the community support them and also understand that defending the conditions for staff is part and parcel of defending the right of all to health care and its future public provision in Britain. For example, a leaflet handed out to the public and pickets this week by the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign states that it is "vital to join the fight to save our hospital services and also to support the health workers and their unions, so that they can provide the service they want to".

The pickets pointed out that the issue of safe staffing levels was not caused by the pandemic as the government claims but by the running down of the health service by the government over many years and the expansion of profiteering by private staff agencies to fill the gaps that deliberate lack of staff planning and training has created. Their biggest frustration is that patients are suffering and they cannot deliver the care that they want. It is this that has driven the nurses to take such unprecedented action. They have had tremendous support both from hospital staff and in the broad workers' movement and community with the FBU and RMT and other unions, Trade Union Councils and Health Campaigns coming to the picket. The pickets were very uplifted by this. For example, even though this was an RCN strike there were a lot of Unison and other union members taking part on their day off and lunch break.


February 10th, Unison ambulance picket, South Shields

A Workers' Forum correspondent spoke to one of the picket organisers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead on the second strike day. The organiser said: "We can say that the issues are mainly about health and safety and not just about our pay. There are not enough persons on the shop floor in our hospitals and the patients are now suffering. There is lots of support behind us for doing this, coming from both inside the hospital and outside. It is just sad that it has come to this. It goes against every moral principle that you have as a nurse to walk away from patients. So, for this reason, we have had to keep the balance right and we have had to make sure that the patients are looked after."

Workers' Forum also spoke to one of the picket organisers at the Ambulance station in South Shields during the Unison strike day of February 10. The issue she raised was that all the ambulance strikes on different days that week of Unison, GMB and Unite, which were ongoing from previous strike days, were together having an effect. Pay offers were being made to health workers in Wales, but of course the Westminster government in England was the block to progress. She also pointed out that beside the refusal of the government to negotiate on pay, they were also refusing to sort out the crisis in recruitment of staff and at least fill the vacancies.

Workers' Forum concludes from these days of action that the unprecedented strike struggle of nurses and other health workers demonstrates that they have their dignity, and they demand better. This is a demand to be treated as caring human beings, and the struggle is also part of the demand for a human-centred health service, in which health workers show their worth. It is also very clear that these courageous actions by the nurses in the face of a hostile and intransigent government and opposition are part of a whole developing movement that is uniting the working class and people to defend their interests and the interests of society as a whole.

All power to the health workers!

Article Index



Protest in Ireland Declares

No to War, No to NATO!

New Worker, February 10, 2023

Activists gathered at the British Embassy in Dublin on Saturday, February 4, to protest against Britain's role in sabotaging the peace negotiations last year, prolonging the war with massive arms deliveries, the active involvement of British military personnel in the fighting in Ukraine, and years of training and arming Banderite Nazi battalions and covering up their horrific crimes against civilians in the Donbas and other Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.

The organisers of the action, The Irish Truth and Neutrality Alliance, said in a statement:

"The war has been going on now for almost a year. The war is the direct and deliberate result of the failure to implement the Minsk agreement and the eastward expansion of NATO.

"Britain and NATO played a key role in that and has continued to up the ante ever since encouraging greater involvement in the conflict, arming one side in it and sabotaging any efforts at peace negotiations, ratcheting up the tension and risking outright nuclear war which will see us all burn, not just Kiev or Moscow.

"Ireland is complicit in this. We have called this protest at the British Embassy due to the ongoing escalation of the war in Ukraine and Britain's role in this as evidenced by the recent decision to send more Challenger tanks to the extreme right-wing regime in Ukraine.

"Since the start of the war the Irish government has moved us closer to being full members of NATO, imposing sanctions and engaging in the training of troops involved in the war. Irish neutrality was already violated with the use of Shannon Airport by US troops.

"Now the Irish government wants us to participate in a foreign conflict. As part of its commitment to the war, the government has agreed to take in an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees. We do not oppose refugees coming to Ireland, but the solution to their plight is peace, not more war. They are not to blame for the war, that lies with all the parties involved in it, which includes Britain, the USA and all the members of NATO.

"Peace means respecting the people of Ukraine but also respecting the right of the people of Donbas and Crimea to decide their own future. Crimea was only incorporated into Ukraine in the latter half of the 20th century.

"The people of Donbas initially wanted more autonomy and respect for their culture, under the Minsk Agreement. The failure to implement it, the sabotage by Britain and others of the accord alongside 8 years of attacks by Ukrainian forces pushed them towards calls for independence and that must be respected.

"The push for us to join NATO has been accompanied by an unrelenting campaign in the Irish media, with journalists openly advocating war and even praising the Azov Battalion whilst overlooking all of their crimes. Coverage is one sided and dissenting voices are not given much if any space at all.

"This occurs at a time when the Irish government is complicit in the blocking of media sources that are critical of their position. Whilst pro-war official media sources from European governments and the Ukrainian government have unfettered access to the airwaves, Russia Today is blocked in most European countries. Other non-governmental critical voices are censored on social media and through the use of algorithms to hide their articles from a wider public.

"We call for the lifting of real and also de facto censorship in the media. We call upon the Irish government to cease its support for war and instead argue for peace talks now. We call for a clear withdrawal from our involvement in NATO and the war. There are no humanitarian training exercises. All military training is designed for war, even demining.

"The Irish people are paying a costly price for involvement in the war and the people of Ukraine and Russia pay for that in blood. It is time for peace.

"No to War, No to NATO!"

(The New Worker is the weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain)

Article Index




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