Michael Gove, the hated Tory MP, was demoted from his position as Minister for Education in a recent Cabinet reshuffle. Teachers across the country celebrated Gove’s removal. But whilst Gove may be gone, the Tory attacks on teachers will continue. The unions need to maintain the fight against the Coalition and their austerity programme.
On the 15th July a major reshuffle of his Cabinet was announced by David Cameron in a lead up to next year’s election. The major surprise in this reshuffle was that hated Education Secretary Michael Gove was demoted to the position of Chief Whip.
Gove: the most hated man in politics
Gove’s demotion caused celebration among the teaching unions, who have been in the frontline of the continued attacks by the Coalition on their pay, pensions and working conditions. For thousands of teachers, Gove’s name had become synonymous with cuts and declining conditions, and the demand to “Get Gove Out!” was frequently seen on teachers’ strikes and protests.
Although Gove is hated almost universally by teachers, he is hardly popular with the general public. A poll just after his demotion suggests that only 22% of the public like him as a politician, whereas 54% dislike him. As a comparison, the Chancellor George Osborne is liked by 30% while disliked by 54%. It must be remembered that Osborne is so unpopular that he was booed by the crowd when handing out medals at the Olympics, which clearly shows how unpopular Michael Gove must be when even Osborne is more “popular”.
Although Gove is rightly hated for his policies, it must be emphasised that his policies – and the Tory-led government’s policies in general – are not the result of the individual personalities of Gove, Cameron, Osborne, or any other single Tory MP, but are inevitable under capitalism, where austerity and attacks on working people are needed to maintain the profits of the bosses and bankers and prop-up the crisis-ridden capitalist system in general. These attacks and back door privatisations, therefore, will continue until capitalism is overthrown.
Different faces, same attacks
One of Gove’s most hated ‘reforms’ (i.e. counter-reforms) was his attack on the pay and pensions of teachers. This had led to strike action by the NUT and NASUWT. Again it must be remembered that this is not an ‘ideological’ attack by the Tories and Gove, but it is a necessary part of capitalism – to keep this failed system alive through vicious austerity against the working class.
Nicky Morgan, the new Tory Minister for Education, will be in charge of continuing with these ‘reforms’ that Gove started. Meanwhile, the Labour Party leaders have already said that they will continue with austerity if elected in 2015. The attacks, therefore, will continue against teachers regardless of who the Education Secretary is and what party is in power.
The question is not about this-or-that “nasty” MP or this-or-that figurehead politician, but about the demands of economic system that we live under: capitalism. The teaching unions, therefore, must direct their anger not simply towards Gove in particular, but must fight alongside other trade unions to bring down the whole Coalition, whilst demanding from the Labour leaders a political programme of socialist policies as the only real alternative to Tory austerity.
Other reforms by Gove included his ‘free schools’ and academies which have given big business an even greater role within our schools. Free schools are effectively schools set up by private bodies, not democratically accountable to local authorities, but funded by the taxpayer. These schools now have priority when a new school needs to be built in an area over a traditional school under local authority control.
Incredibly, these schools don’t even need to have qualified teachers and are allowed to make a profit. This continues with the wider theme of greater profit made by big business in public services to keep their profits high despite the squeeze of the economic crisis. Free schools are a great opportunity for asset stripping by the private sector, with the lack of need to have qualified teachers bringing new potential ‘efficiencies’ and greater profit.
These publicly funded schools are totally unaccountable, unlike traditional local authority schools, which come under the control of democratically elected local councils. Rather than standards and curricula being decided by society, therefore, big business and special interest groups can gain a foothold in deciding what is taught in schools and how it is taught.
Tories taking on the unions
The other big issue with free schools and academies are that they are not subject to national pay scales. This means that teachers will lose their collective bargaining and will be faced with bullying and intimidation from unaccountable head teachers who will be able to squeeze teachers’ wages as low as they want. The ability for teachers to maintain decent pay levels through their collective organisation and bargaining power in the teaching unions will be diminished. Again it must be pointed out that this attack on national pay bargaining is not solely against teachers, but is becoming the norm throughout the public sector. Increased outsourcing has meant many jobs have been transferred to the private sector, which leaves workers increasingly atomised and isolated, outside of the national pay scales and with less power to disrupt profits through strikes.
This attack on teachers’ pay bargaining rights has been part of a wider plan by Gove and the Tories to limit the power of the teachers unions. Gove rightly saw the teachers unions as some of the most militant within the trade union movement, and felt that he must limit their power as an example to the other unions. It has been suggested by David Cameron that the attacks will go even further after the next election by banning strikes by teachers due to them being an ‘essential public service’. The gradual removal of teachers’ unions’ rights has been part of a wider attack on trade union rights by the ruling class, in order to allow for the them to carry out their programme of austerity without resistance.
Gove’s gone – now fight for a socialist programme!
Gove may be gone, but the counter-reforms against teachers will continue while we still live under a capitalist system. Teachers must remember that their anger at Gove should be against the capitalist system as a whole, with Gove being just the face of the capitalist attacks at a particular point in time.
Teaching unions must link up with other trade unions and the labour movement as a whole for coordinated action to bring down the Coalition and fight for a socialist programme. Only with socialist policies – to democratically and publically control the wealth in society – can teachers be paid a fair wage and fair pensions while reversing the privatisations. Under a socialist plan of production, schools can be run by elected representatives of teachers, other staff and parents to give true democratic accountability to our schools, while getting rid of big business’s influence within our education system.