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West Dunbartonshire teachers fightback to defend education
Matt Dobson and Louise Donegan, Socialist Party Scotland
Members of the Scottish teachers' union EIS took strike action at five secondary schools across West Dunbartonshire on 12 January, in defence of education services threatened by the Labour council's "restructuring" of school management.
West Dunbartonshire Labour council plans to cut the number of principal teachers it employs leading to the loss of specialist heads of department.
This loss of expertise, as the strike leaflet produced by the local association explains, will lead to one "faculty principal" being responsible for a range of subjects - that can be quite unrelated like PE and home economics - some of which they have no previous knowledge of.
The local governors association, responding to teacher anger, has campaigned against these proposals culminating in the solid picket lines and strike action.
There is growing awareness among other education workers, the wider community and parents that this "restructuring" is in reality cuts to education and is damaging to children's secondary school experience.
The council is coming under severe public pressure. From 13 January, teachers will work-to-rule and there is a mandate for further strike action to come in February, if the council does not change course.
Eva, EIS school rep at Clydebank High School, told the Socialist: "We are determined through this strike action that the council and education services managers get the message after being forced to close the schools to pupils. 88% of us voted for this strike".
After well attended picket lines at all five schools, hundreds of teachers and supporters packed into Clydebank town hall for a mass meeting.
The gathering was chaired by Jim Halfpenny EIS West Dunbartonshire joint secretary and Socialist Party Scotland member.
Jim read out messages of solidarity and support that had poured in since the strike date was announced.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan pointed to both Labour and the SNP's rhetoric over "protecting" education. He contrasted this with the reality of cuts biting and significantly said local authority unions need to unite and fight together against the latest round of cuts. Socialist Party Scotland believes the fightback by West Dunbartonshire should be taken up by the union on a national level.
The mood in the room was determined, with many focused contributions on how the union can step up its media and parent engagement campaign and make the work-to-rule fully effective. This week's council Labour group meeting will be lobbied by teachers.
Jim Halfpenny closed the rally by raising the need to link this strike with the wider struggle against austerity, coming from the Tories and implemented by the Scottish government and councils. Reflecting the fighting spirit, all in the room stood up together, and applauded.
Socialist Party Scotland raised the example of Glasgow and Dundee where local authority unions are campaigning for no-cuts budgets. Trade unions including EIS also urgently need to coordinate industrial action, mass protests at budget setting meetings and a conference to plan a national campaign against the cuts.
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