1 February saw the National Education Union (NEU) take to the picket lines alongside hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers, in a tremendous show of strength. Since then, a campaign of rolling school strikes has swept across the country.
The issues at stake are clear. Working conditions in education are a horror story. Teachers and teaching assistants regularly put in unpaid extra hours, straining to keep up with ever-increasing workloads. Pay rates in the sector have stagnated for decades, even before inflation began to bite.
Overworked and underpaid, turnover in the profession is at unsustainable levels. And all of this is being made even worse by the Tories’ academisation drive.
Students too are being hammered, suffering from poor living and learning conditions, rising child poverty, and a mental health epidemic. The next generation is being stripped of its future.
But education staff are saying: ‘Enough is enough!’ Teachers will not accept these rotten conditions – not for themselves, nor for their students.
Joining the fray
The NEU’s current strike campaign will culminate in further massive days of action. On 15 and 16 March, union members will be walking out together across the country. And they will be joined, once again, by swathes of workers from across the public sector.
Some unions – such as those representing nurses and lecturers – have paused their action since the last unified strike day. But at the same time, others have smashed through anti-union barriers in order to join the fray.
Junior doctors organised in the BMA, for example, have returned a thumping majority for strike action, with 98% of respondents voting Yes on a turnout of 77%.
It is clear that Britain’s strike wave is not going away anytime soon. Both the government and the employers are clearly feeling the heat. And they would like nothing better than to be able to pick these strikes off one by one. This cannot be allowed to happen.
Unite and fight
What is needed, now more than ever, is to unify the strikes and go on the offensive against the Tories and the bosses.
Upcoming national days of action should be used as a springboard for a campaign of coordinated strike action across the trade union movement, in order to hit the government and employers from all sides.
This should include serious preparations by the union leaders for a public-sector-wide strike. Such a display of strength would galvanise workers across the whole country; show the Tories that they cannot divide and isolate the trade unions; and demonstrate who really runs society.
Ultimately, we are all battling against a common enemy: the capitalists, their representatives, and their system, which prioritises private profit above decent public services.
We must unite the struggles and fight for clear socialist solutions to defend education, reverse austerity, and make the billionaires pay for this crisis.
Report from the picket lines
AM, NEU member in Merseyside
I am a secondary school teacher in Merseyside, writing this while on strike today.
On the picket line we have seen support from nearly every passing vehicle. Bus drivers have been particularly enthusiastic. Many of them have learned through last year’s successful Arriva North West dispute that strike action works.
A passing ambulance turned on its siren for us, showing that striking ambulance workers are not in competition with teachers for public money, but are united against this decrepit Tory government.
Perhaps the strongest show of solidarity we saw on our picket line was from an Uber driver, who picked up a teacher planning to scab, and then refused to take them to their destination. It cannot be easy for a gig economy worker to turn down money and risk a bad rating.
We will see more of this sort of working-class coordination, both formal and informal, as class conflict in Britain escalates further.
Curiouser is the recent case of a TikTok-organised trend for students to walk out of lessons in protest of school rules, such as restrictions on toilet use. The passion and motivation of youth cannot be underestimated, and their questioning of management’s diktats is to be encouraged.
No teacher that I know delights in strictness. We would not need draconian behaviour policies if we had enough teaching staff (including teaching assistants) to cover class sizes; a manageable level of staff duties to monitor key areas (such as toilets), where the most serious bullying occurs; and enough time to plan lessons we are proud to deliver.
We have seen many examples of students protesting directly against the impacts of academisation in education – such as at Deyes High School in Liverpool and Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic) in London.
A popular slogan among teachers has been: “Our working conditions are your learning conditions.” Teachers and students are not enemies, but allies, with a shared interest in fighting against the Tories and the bosses.
I encourage any students reading this to help us in our struggle to reverse the cuts to schools.
Towards a one-day general strike! For an above-inflation pay rise for all workers!