- London teachers to strike on 26 November
- Further education: now build on the action
London teachers' strike on 26 November
By a London NUT member
Teachers have voted overwhelmingly for strike action in London for the second time this year.
Members of the NUT voted by four to one to take strike action on 26 November over the cost of working in London. The NUT held a successful day of strike action on the issue in March.
This time, members of the NASUWT will also be out - the first time for years the unions have taken joint strike action. Fifty-seven percent of NASUWT members voted to strike.
The other TUC-affiliated union, the ATL, has its ballot result out as we go to press (Thursday). The ATL expect a positive result and to be out on 26 November.
There will be a joint demonstration and rally on the strike day, assembling at Lincoln's Inn Fields at 10.30. The rally will be held at the Oval Cricket ground near Kennington Park.
Unions are demanding a substantial increase in London allowances for teachers. Currently teachers receive allowances of £3,105 in inner London, £2,043 in outer London and £792 in the fringe. This compares with £6,111 for the Met Police.
High living costs in London have led to a shortage of teachers, disrupting the education of students in the capital. The vacancy rate in London is more than double the rate for England as a whole, and the number of vacancies in London has almost doubled since 1997.
The focus for the left is building for the strike and getting teachers out on the demonstration. But the main political issue is how to avoid the dispute being run down after the strike. There was a tremendous mood for further action after the NUT strike in March, which was squandered in the summer term.
However teachers have again shown a willingness to fight. What is needed is a strategy of escalating action, such as a rolling programme of sustained strikes in different boroughs, to keep the pressure on.
The School Teachers' Review Body meets in the new year to decide on the new pay deal, so there is a short timetable for action. The left also needs to think about how to gain rank and file control of the dispute. A London-wide meeting of reps, establishing an elected structure of representatives - basically a rank and file strike committee - will make it much harder for the leadership to switch off the action.
Further education: now build on the action
By Matt Cooper, Chair Barnet College NATFHE personal capacity
Tuesday 5 November saw the most successful strike in the history of Further Education. For the first time that anyone can remember, some colleges were totally closed by strike action.
This was despite the strike not including Wales, where the Welsh Executive have made an ambiguous offer that may or may not concede to the lectures' demands. Some colleges in England were unaffected after accepting local deals, but nonetheless the strike totally closed 40 colleges, with the vast majority of others being severely disrupted. Certainly, in my region, outer London, the strike action was more extensive and more solid that it was during the previous two day strike in May.
The success of the strike was due to this being the first strike to include unions organising all staff in the FE sector. UNISON members, who organise support staff in FE colleges, organised their first national strike in the sector since 1989 and were amongst the most enthusiastic picketers. Even some branches of the normally strike-resistant Association of Teachers and Lecturers joined the strike action. Unfortunately, the officials of the GMB thought that the 64% yes vote in their strike ballot was insufficient mandate, and decide not to allow their members to strike. However, reports are that some colleges remained locked as GMB members discovered as they approached picket lines that none of them had brought their keys to work.
The picture is not entirely rosy. The national leadership of NATFHE are clearly pinning their hopes on an announcement due on 19 November from the Education Minister. They seem to be hoping that their demands will be at least met in part without sustained strike action. Of course this is not impossible - the growing gap between FE and school teachers' pay means that there is now a severe recruitment crisis in FE and a steady haemorrhaging of staff to the schools sector. Support staff vacancies too are not being filled, because since FE was removed from local government control in 1993, FE Unison members' pay has fallen 15% behind their local government equivalents. But there has to be a suspicion that the debacle of last year, when strike action was called off after an empty promise addressing the pay gap with teachers, will be repeated.
What is certain is that NATFHE's national leadership is playing things too cautiously. While the last three years under the General Secretaryship of Paul Mackney have seen a huge improvement in the leadership of the union - industrial action is at least back on the agenda - the strategy seems confined to occasional one-day (and in one instance, two-day) strikes in the hope that this will make the Government crumble at its knees. Immediately after last May's two-day strike, the NATFHE conference called for "escalating action". The one day 5 November strike is the first fruit.
There will be a recall conference in early December and it is important that NATFHE activists prepare a programme of action before then. This means holding meetings in every college to send motions to regional mandating meetings calling for real escalating action in the New Year if our demands are not met. Cross-branch meetings with GMB, UNISON and T&G members should be held and college staff should build solidarity with the fire-fighters, the NUT members (who are striking in London on 26 November) and other public sector workers in struggle.
The struggles must be linked, the action must be escalated. This is the surest route to all FE workers winning their battle.