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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 May 2010

Unions must defend public services

THE NATIONAL Union of Teachers (NUT) National Executive met just days after Cameron was finally confirmed as prime minister. Every teacher will wonder what this Tory/Lib Dem coalition will mean for education, our living standards and the prospects for our students and their families.

Martin Powell-Davies, NUT executive member

This will clearly be a government of "savage cuts" in the words of 'Deputy Clegg'. Even a Labour-led government would have been under pressure to start the attacks on pay, pensions and public services that have already begun in countries like Greece, Spain and Ireland.

Despite the serious risk of provoking a 'double-dip recession', a Cameron government will push ahead with trying to slash the deficit - at our expense.

The £6 billion worth of cuts already declared will be just the tip of an enormous iceberg.

It's true that both the Conservatives and Lib Dems have talked about creating a 'pupil premium' to support disadvantaged pupils.

But, instead of finding extra funding, new initiatives may be paid for by cutting elsewhere. The Department for Education has already announced that £55 billion allocated to Building Schools for the Future rebuilding plans is under threat.

Instead of genuinely funding additional needs, 'savings' may be directed towards developing so-called 'free schools', one of Education Secretary Michael Gove's favourite ideas.

They will be publicised as allowing parents and charities to set up new schools. In reality, as Sweden has shown, it will be big education businesses that will really profit by being allowed to set up new chains of schools.

The Tories will also want to accelerate the Academies programme, further privatising education and undermining teachers' national pay and conditions.

"It's about getting local authorities out of the picture" as a 'Whitehall source' told the Guardian (15 May).

Pensions could also soon be in the firing-line. The coalition parties' 'negotiations agreement' included a commitment to "establishing an independent commission to review the long term affordability of public sector pensions".

We discussed on the union's Salaries Committee how David Laws, Liberal Democrat millionaire and now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had already suggested reducing the contributions that teachers' employers have to put into the scheme.

Teachers would presumably either have to pay more or see their pension benefits cut.

But these attacks are not inevitable - as long as we get organised. This 'government of losers' has no solid support for its cuts programme - cuts that were never spelled out in all the superficial 'presidential debates' in any case.

Many voters simply opted for what they saw as the 'least bad' choice on the ballot paper rather than voting with any enthusiasm.

Where other European governments have announced cuts, teaching and public sector unions responded with demonstrations and strike action.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower, has sent NUT support to Greek teachers taking action to protect their pay and pensions.

Spanish public sector unions responded immediately to a 'surprise' cut of 5% in salaries with a planned joint national strike on 2 June.

We mustn't sit back and wait for the axe to fall. We have to start to prepare for the same kind of firm action. At the NUT National Executive meeting, I asked that the union sends out a clear message to members that we will be opposing government attacks.

We need to put in place the policy agreed at this year's NUT conference that called for: NUT associations to approach other union branches to build united campaigns to defend public services.

Approaching the TUC to propose a national demonstration to warn the incoming government of our determination to act to defend jobs, pay, pensions and services.

The NUT will be attending the TUC's Public Services Liaison Group on 8 June to plan with other unions.

The NUT is also preparing a joint conference in the autumn to discuss how unions and campaign groups can work together to defend education from cuts and privatisation.

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In The Socialist 26 May 2010:

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