Article from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
All out against these cuts!
ON 13 May thousands of education workers took strike action against the draconian £30 million cuts in education. There were hundreds of enthusiastic and lively picket lines in each of the five Board areas. Several thousand strikers also attended rallies in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the teachers' unions decided not to take part in the strike but, on the day, many teachers expressed their support for the action even though they had not been called out.
A further strike day involving all the education unions should have been announced on the day as the obvious follow up. This could have been accompanied by a campaign to mobilise public support with leaflets asking parents and other workers to turn out on rallies and demonstrations.
This is what the vast majority of education workers were demanding. However the leaderships of the various education unions have failed to come up with a co-ordinated strategy of action to defeat the cuts.
In this situation UNISON have taken the lead, calling a further strike for 17 June. Two branches of NIPSA, representing members in the Belfast and South Eastern Boards, have decided to join this strike. 17 June will again show the anger and determination of education workers, although the action could have been stronger if other unions across the Boards had joined in.
Pressure must now be built on all the unions to support and fully take part in further strikes unless the cuts are reversed. As a first step, the left in all the unions should come together to work out a programme of action that can be campaigned for in all the unions.
The government can be defeated on these cuts - especially if there is a determined and united campaign involving all teaching and non teaching staff and supported by other trade unionists and by the working class communities.
On this page, education trade unionists explain the severity of the cuts and give their views on what should be done.
Fighting back in South Eastern Board
by Brian Booth NIPSA Branch 517 (South Eastern Board)
17 JUNE will be the second day of strike action against the cuts. In our Board, it will mirror what happened on 13 May. All non teaching members of staff in the unions, NIPSA and Unison are to be asked to come out on that day.
Clear indications exist of the increasingly difficult situation for both the government and the Department of Education following the 13 May strike.
The new Minister met with the five board Chief Executives and Chairmen on Thursday last to discuss the issue. The Department of Education instructed the Boards to present information about the effects of the cuts. The Minister appears to be reassessing the cuts introduced by Gardiner, but has not as yet given any sign to either the trade unions or political parties of her intentions. It is likely that the Minister will play for time and try to string the process out until July when, in her mind, the pressure will be off.
In the event that there may be some movement, but insufficient to resolve the crisis, NIPSA and UNISON in the SEELB have identified the need for at least another one day strike to push the government to make serious concessions on the cuts.
In addition, NIPSA Branch 517 in the SEELB has identified three sites for extended selective strike action against the cuts. A formal request for action has been lodged with NIPSA disputes' committee, and it is expected that these strikes will get the go-ahead in order to put pressure on the Minister to yield.
THE CUTS proposed in the South Eastern Board are typical of what is happening in all the Boards. They include:
- Lollipop patrols cut, lunchtime provision removed from 71 schools and early afternoon service removed from 16 schools.
- Early afternoon bus service for younger children abolished (P1-P3).
- Classroom Assistants hours decimated, terms and conditions destroyed, and put on lower hourly rate.
- School Libraries not getting replacement books/videos/dvd's.
- Cabra Towers Outdoor Centre shut down.
- Education Welfare Officers posts not being replaced; currently seven vacant.
- 100 posts in SEELB HQ vacant and not filled.
- £1.5million slashed from SEN budget for mainstream schools.
- Reading Recovery slashed by one third.
Teachers must take part - A view from the chalkface
by Paul McQuillan INTO member
THINK BACK to the "Thatcher Years" and who was in the vanguard of the fight against the draconian changes that Thatcher and her minions were attempting to impose on the population. Believe it or not, the INTO was a leading light in the battle to maintain a fair and just education system offering every child the right to a balanced and rewarding curriculum delivered by a motivated workforce of enthusiastic teachers and fellow education workers.
Now move forward 21 years and a modern day Thatcher under the guise of "New Labour" is attempting to revise the education system. Where are the teaching unions? Not out on the front line where many of our sister unions are actively bringing to the public's attention the dire consequences of proposed cuts. Oh no they are adopting the wait and see, let's talk tack.
How long do we wait and see, when there are no more crossing guards, no new classroom assistants assigned, no money for outings and when redundant teachers are reemployed in call centres? We cannot have one rule for teachers and another for all other education workers. "I'm alright Jack" only lasts as long as "Jack" actually has a job.
The teaching unions are at present being perceived by our fellow workers as maintaining the attitude that they are "better than you" and if teachers aren't being hurt too badly by the cuts, who cares about the rest?
We, the members of the union, must be consulted on decisions that are of such vital importance to our future. We must claim back the union from the pro-Blairites who want to bury their heads in the sand and hope it will be sorted out by someone else.
I call on all right minded members to stand up and be counted, attend district meetings and don't be afraid to speak your mind. There are a great many like minded people in the union and it is time for us to make our voices heard.
The workers united can never be defeated!
100% out - 90% on picket line!
by Tommy Black, caretaker & NIPSA rep,
Ashfield Girls' High School
13 MAY was solid in our school. In the run up, I held a meeting inviting all five unions on site. All turned up except the teachers' union who had not been balloted. As a result, we were able to build in a united way for the strike.
This meant that on the day we had 100% turnout with 90% of members taking part in the picket line. Unfortunately, the union leaderships don't seem able to co-operate in the way the members can.
What we need are joint union committees in all the schools to build the maximum unity and co-operation. If the union leaderships don't get the finger out and organise a determined and united campaign, the initiative should come from the members on the ground.