Teachers back on strike

Thousands of teachers, members of the National Education Union in England and Wales have joined up to half a million other public sector workers taking strike action. (EIS members in Scotland have already started a programme of industrial action.)  70,000 UCU members in over 100 universities, were also due to be on strike.

This has been the first national teachers’ action since 2016.  The NEU (particularly its legions of activists, local officers and workplace reps) is to be congratulated for surpassing the legally required turn-out for the strike. I know from many years’ experience that it isn’t easy to achieve these sorts of majorities in postal ballots sent to members home addresses. It’s disappointing that other teachers’ unions and those representing support staff, haven’t been able to do this – though not through want of trying.

Though primarily about pay (despite being the most unionised, teachers have fared worse than any other public sector workers over the last 10 years) as with the NHS, there are huge issues about working conditions and staffing – over a third of new teachers don’t stay, while even many mid-career teachers are taking on extra (often low skilled) jobs in the private sector. The government’s last-minute attempts to offer more money to younger teachers (this offer is still below inflation) has been rejected by NEU members.

As with other parts of the public sector, the government is refusing to consider ‘inflation busting’ pay rises. Yet as most economists recognise, the current inflation (which is expected to fall to 4% over the year) is the result of external causes, the war in Ukraine, Brexit and the knock-on effects of Covid. Increasing interest rates still further, which the Bank of England is likely to do this week, will push some prices up even more. Rather than wages, it’s the price ‘mark-ups’ of many private sector corporations, particularly those that have been exploiting these economic uncertainties, that need holding down.

But it’s also about government attitudes to fiscal policy and borrowing.  With a recession approaching you’d think that the £20 billion or so required to settle all the pay disputes (less, if you allow for tax returns) would be a useful stimulant. It would also be a small fraction of the amount borrowed during the pandemic – most of this being internal government borrowing from the Bank of England. But the Sunak Tories have a ‘pot of money’ approach to the economy, where like any household you can only spend what you can ‘afford’.

The dispute will likely continue throughout the summer – six more days of action are planned. The challenge for the NEU (it claims 40 000 new members have been recruited) will be to maintain the momentum. But at the moment public opinion remains on its side. As with the NHS, there is a debate to be had about how the education service should be run in the 21st century. But the current crisis in education is not the result of this and it is not the time to have this debate now.

4 thoughts on “Teachers back on strike

  1. Good article but inflation has also been caused by rising profits … rail, supermarket and energy bosses have been raking it in!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. School teachers have been on strike over pay in Scotland since November last. The vast majority are in the EIS union, but there are also members of the SSTA, AHDS and NAS/UWT unions who, unlike other unions in England and Wales, have also won ballots for strike action over pay. EIS has announced further national and local strike dates after the February half-term break. When the EIS strike, pretty much every state school is closed. Pay is negotiated with the Scottish local authority association COSLA as almost all state schools are still under local authority responsibility. But the Scottish government is the paying body and the UK government ultimately the main source of taxpayer funding for Scottish schools. The Scottish SNP government have been criticised for warm words, but not meeting the teachers’ demand for a 10% pay rise. EIS members are also a major force in several university sector institutions (that were part of the Scottish Central Institution sector before 1992) and there were joint pickets/strike action with the UCU in several places on 1 February.

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