Thursday 17th October saw 2,000 striking teachers and supporters march through the streets of Brighton in a display of anger towards the government’s attacks on education. Schools were overwhelmingly shut across Brighton and Sussex as NUT and NASWUT members joined together in the second regional strike action taken by the two main teaching unions.
The route was lined by people applauding, showing up the divisive tactics of the media in trying to undermine teachers – it was clear on the day how much support the teachers had from the public.
While the official dispute is over pay, pensions and working conditions that are threatened by Michael Gove, the demonstration saw an outpouring of teacher’s frustrations right across the board. OFSTED, over testing and “free schools” were all highlighted in speeches and on placards throughout the day.
More than anything, there was a general feeling that the day was about defending an idea of education that is shared by teachers and students alike, a publically owned, accountable and inclusive system.
This idea is not shared by the ConDem government, especially the Tories, who are threatening to break up the state system with more and more academies, in effect, privatisation of schools.
It is not just teachers fighting back as we enter what could be an uncomfortable winter for the government and their austerity plans. The Brighton NUT rally heard from firefighters, and higher education workers who are set to join postal workers and probation staff who are all set to strike over the coming weeks.
This represents the entering of a new stage in the industrial struggle in Britain, following the retreat of the union leaderships over pensions, and should be welcomed.
|Firefighters show their support|
However these unions alone are unlikely to force the government back. If these strikes were co-ordinated, if not by the TUC then by the unions themselves, they could form a powerful force against the next wave of privatisation and cuts coming from the ConDems.
But just like the massive public sector general strike on November 30th two years ago, this strike showed there is a desperate need for a mass political voice for workers in Britain today.
The Labour Party locally had offered their support on the day, but with the Labour Party leadership openly supporting academies and free schools – it is hard to take this support seriously. In fact it strikes as hollow when the Labour Party talk about defending education, seeing as it was their party that introduced academies and tuition fees in the first place!
A party that supports, and encourages strike action as a tactic in opposing all cuts could have the potential to be a pole of attraction for all opposition to cuts and austerity in Britain.
In Brighton there have been steps towards this. A meeting last month called by local TUSC (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) and Left Unity supporters agreed to make sure there were anti cuts candidates contesting right across Brighton in the next local election. TUSC contested the Hanover by-election in the summer and took was the only party to increase their vote, taking 5%.
This all points to a rising wave of anger against the government following a summer lull, and shows the potential for the building of a mass movement; both industrially and politically to bring down the Con-Dems and their brutal cuts agenda.