In the short space of time since the election of a new government a swift change in educational policy reflects the public spending crisis to come and highlights the need for unions to take a more militant approach.
The speed of change in government policy has been startling for everyone in education. Unfortunately for us, education will be an area where the Conservative and Lib Dems will find plenty to agree on, including a commitment to “freedom”.
Michael Gove, the new minister for the new department of Education, has frequently used the word “freedom” on the election trail to give positive spin to policies which include allowing headteachers the right to set pay in schools, massive alterations to the National Curriculum and an expansion of private running of state schools. Gove set out his policies, saying, “I want us to offer all schools the chance to enjoy academy-style freedoms so that heads and teachers across the country can be liberated”. A sense of freedom, which the academy system has showed us benefits the pockets of business rather than the conditions of workers.
The Queen’s speech on 25th May will almost certainly include a new Education Bill, drawing together the various strands of reform which have been set underway thus far.
These have included:
- A commission formed to review the pension scheme for future public sector education workers.
- Vice chancellors bracing themselves for millions of pounds of cuts in higher education, roughly estimated at 6.3%.
- A review of Building Schools for the Future forcing a freeze on construction of new school buildings.
- The cancellation of a new primary curriculum, which had a greater emphasis on cross-curricular learning and greater skill basis.
If it was not clear prior to the election, it is certainly clear now that public sector education workers will be facing a fight over the coming years as public spending cuts impact on jobs, pay and conditions of employment. The key question is, are the unions up for the fight? The IWW, which has always criticised the approach of partnership unions in their co-operation with management, are in favour of a militant, rank-and-file led approach. Whereas New Labour were able to, and indeed forced to, maintain an appearance of amicability with unions, the Conserative party are under no obligation to pay any lip-service.
However, it is apparent that militancy at schools, colleges, universities and all other educational establishments could, to say the least, be higher. We, as workers, are not in a strong enough position to resist the coming storm. The recent SATS boycott has seen only 15% of schools not administering the tests. In addition to this, many heads and deputies have chosen to run the examinations despite a majority vote for a boycott in both NUT and NAHT ballots.
Mainstream unions marketing themselves as an insurance policy do not help a lack of militancy. Adam Eddleston, secretary of the IWW Education Workers, commented that a different approach to unionism was needed now more than ever. “In all workplaces we have workers in many different unions. How can we possibly succeed when we are kept divided despite facing problems that unite us? Every trade union representative from every workplace is determined to improve their conditions but their own unions hold them back.
“The IWW’s dual card approach allows members to stay in their union as well as joining us. The IWW has always wanted to build a new society in the shell of the old and, likewise, we can build a combatitive union in the shell of the old. A united workplace is a strong one and will be our only way of hitting back at our employers.”
The IWW is not affiliated to any political party or organisation. We are independent and do not allow party politics to dictate our affairs. At its core, the IWW also holds a non-sectarian approach to other unions.