28 June 2011 — New Left Project
On June 30, although most of the teachers and lecturers in the NUT, ATL and UCU will be going on strike, not all of them will be. The following post, by Jacob Mukherjee*, presents a case for why those teachers should make the sacrifice and join the strike on June 30.
1) Strikes work
Even the threat of strike action in 2007 forced the previous Government to alter their plans to change conditions for existing members of the teachers’ pension scheme. Head Teachers have already voted for a strike ballot over pensions, and Unison leader Dave Prentis says his 1 million strong union will strike in the autumn if there is no compromise. Although the Government is talking tough, in reality they are eager to avoid a showdown with the unions. If the teachers’ strike is well supported, the Government will think twice before forcing through their changes and risking confrontation with the entire public sector workforce.
Public opinion is divided over the issue of public sector strikes, but evidence shows that the Government’s popularity tends to suffer after strikes and demonstrations. Opinion polls show that the Conservative Party’s approval rating took a hit after the student demonstrations against tuition fees, after the March 26th anti-cuts demonstration and again after the announcement of a ‘Yes’ vote in the June 30th strike ballots. Cameron is aware of this and is desperate to avoid being seen as a divisive leader like Margaret Thatcher. This Government is not confident like Blair’s in 1997. They have already made a string of U-turns on the forest sell-off, free milk for children, EMA and most recently NHS reforms. They can be forced to change course again.
2) The benefits outweigh the costs
The proposed changes to our pensions would cost some teachers over £200000. Even a small concession from the Government could win the average teacher thousands of pounds, at a cost of less than a hundred pounds in lost pay. Most teachers can afford to lose a day’s pay, but we can’t afford to lose retirement security. Any teacher who would suffer genuine financial hardship as a result of lost pay can apply for help from the unions’ strike funds.
3) Solidarity is what makes unions work
Some teachers may have doubts about the idea of striking, or may even have voted against a strike. Others may feel the changes have little impact on them, or that they can survive on a lower pension. But 92% did vote for strike action in a democratic, secret ballot.
The first principle of trade unionism is collective self-defence: workers defend each other when some of them are under attack. In this case, nearly all teachers would be harmed by the pension changes so we should all be on strike. All members benefit from the advice and protection that union membership gives them. In return, members should respond when the union calls upon them to take action. We will all gain if the strike wins concessions from the Government, so we should all be on strike.
*Jacob Mukherjee is a teacher and trade union activist in the NUT
Note: This piece was originally written for circulation among teachers – please pass it on to any that would benefit from reading it.