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Kick big business out of education!
DELEGATES TO the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference faced up to how to fight the biggest proposed upheaval to the education system for over 60 years.
New Labour's Education and Inspections Bill aims to overturn the idea of comprehensive education and allow the 'free market' and big business to let rip in the education system. It plans to take schools out of local authority control and hand the most lucrative parts over to big business and religious organisations.
As well as preparing the way for a two-tier or three-tier education system, they are also opening up the way to corruption in education provision - see the 'cash for honours' scandal over sponsorship of academies.
Lewisham delegate and Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies, speaking to the main Left amendment in the debate on how to oppose the Bill, warned that the attacks it contains are part of "a divisive neo-liberal ideology that believes that market competition and privatisation improves services which they patently don't... they are part of a wider attack on public services."
Martin warned that the NUT leadership's proposals were not enough to win this struggle. He pointed out that with this government "strength of argument is not enough - they're happy to lose the argument but press ahead in any case."
Martin added: "There is no educational argument for the Education Bill but unless we fight back it will happen anyway". With the break-up of local authority schools and the "dog-eat-dog admissions system" there will be a huge threat to teachers' jobs, pay and conditions.
He concluded that although it may be necessary to fight school by school in some cases, the most effective action would be across schools, with a campaign for national strike action. Martin argued for the linking up with other public-sector workers who are also considering action against privatisation, to ensure an effective fight before the Bill becomes law.
Former NUT president Mary Compton showed how the Labour government's plans were part of an international campaign by big business and financial capital to make rich pickings out of education. She referred the conference to a World Bank document "Education - the last frontier for profit" which was part of a worldwide plan to end free education and which chillingly warned of how "the political power of teachers' unions can be countered."
National executive member Hazel Danson pointed out that although only 7% of education in Britain was currently in private hands, 17% of the Parliamentary Labour Party had received a private education. 25% of junior ministers, 40% of the Cabinet and 100% of those making decisions on the future of education had received a private education.
The conference agreed a resolution, strengthened up by the Left amendment, that prepared a campaign that could build for strike action. One immediate aim will be to build for a huge lobby of Parliament, possibly alongside other public-sector unions fighting privatisation.
OTHER KEY debates at the conference were over pensions and the anti-union laws.
The successful united public-sector union pensions' struggle that forced the government to retreat from its plans to raise the retirement age for existing public-sector workers clearly gave NUT delegates confidence that the government plans for 'reforming' education could be driven back.
Speaking against an executive amendment, which wanted delegates to accept on trust what the union leadership was in the process of negotiating on the new teachers' pension scheme, Martin Powell-Davies warned that whilst a lot had been achieved there was still much to do to defend pensions.
He said there are still battles ahead and the unions needed to maintain their unity in action to force the government back.
He pointed out that all those who are guaranteed a fabulous pension - MPs, CBI leaders and newspaper editors in particular - believe it is 'unreasonable' for the rest of the population to retire at 60. Martin said that whilst forcing back the government's plans last year we "can't accept the government's work till you drop" proposals.
He argued successfully for a special NUT conference to have a say on any final offer from the government.
"United action forced them to retreat" he said but "we may need to take that lesson into other struggles" including future pension struggles.
The theme of workers fighting back was developed by Bristol delegate and Socialist Party member, Rachael Thomas, in the debate on the anti-union laws and the Trade Union Freedom Bill. Rachael pointed out that Britain has the most repressive anti-union laws of any of the advanced capitalist countries and workers' rights had been driven back over a century. She pointed out how some employers were using this to sack trade union reps but also showed how, like with the Gate Gourmet workers, when workers are compelled to struggle they can sweep the anti-union laws aside.
Rachael pointed out that it was trade union leaders rather than the union members, who were most fearful of the anti-union laws. She pointed out that 100 years ago when workers had faced similar repressive laws they had realised that industrial struggle alone was not enough and that they needed to found a party to represent workers' interests. A new workers' party was needed once again to ensure there is an industrial and a political fight against the anti-union laws.
l Socialist Party delegates also spoke in debates on workload, workplace bullying and inclusion. Over 100 copies of the Socialist Party Teachers' Bulletin and 70 copies of the socialist were sold at the conference along with over £200 raised for the Socialist Party fighting fund.
IN THE debate on workplace bullying, Socialist Party member Eileen Hunter, a Birmingham delegate, tried to intervene with a point of order - asking for reassurance that if delegates' speeches were used in disciplinary cases against them then they should have the full backing of the union.
This is what happened to Eileen, the NUT rep at her school, after last year's conference which led to her dismissal by ultra-Blairite headteacher Dexter Hutt. Eileen's daughter, Natara Hunter, a teacher at the same school was also victimised by the same head.
Shamefully, the conference chair, 'named' Eileen - a form of discipline - while she was trying to make her point of order. The chair then effectively pressurised Eileen into making an apology. This forced a backlash from delegates who felt that Eileen had suffered at the hands of workplace bullies and didn't deserve similar treatment from a national officer of the union.
During the debate on the issue, Natara Hunter, Socialist Party member and Birmingham delegate, said that "an injury to one is an injury to all has to be reaffirmed as a principle of the union".
Natara recounted how whilst she and Eileen had been sacked by a Blairite head teacher but they didn't want "sympathy but action against management bullying".
Around 40 delegates attended the Campaign for a New Workers' Party fringe meeting.
Resisting Cardiff's school cuts
CARDIFF COUNTY Council's decision to close 17 schools, merge another ten and threaten 300 teaching jobs got an immediate response from school students at Cantonian High School. They walked out of their classes and went on strike!
Dave Reid, Cardiff Socialist Party
A teacher at Cantonian told the socialist: "Students in year 11 were the main organisers of the protest. They protested by the fences waving placards which they then tied to the railings.
"The council want to close the school and send the students to Radyr but that's a long way away and will mean losing a school in the community. Apparently the land that the school is on is worth £1.5 million an acre, so I guess the council aims to make money on it. But if they build houses here then there'll be even more need for a school here!"
Cardiff Socialist Party asks how can sacking 300 teachers improve education in Cardiff? Falling pupil rolls are an opportunity to improve pupil/teacher ratios in the classes. Anyway, Cardiff's population is rapidly increasing with young people moving into the city so the school population is likely to rise in the future.
The council will discuss the proposals on 27 April. The Socialist Party has called for a lobby of the council at 3.00 p.m. at County Hall in Atlantic Wharf.
In The Socialist 20 April 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party election campaign
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis