Tuesday, 1 October 2013

#solidarity with #teacherROAR

I generally have a problem with public sector strikes. But that problem isn't with people fighting for better (or just not worse) conditions. That problem comes from the laws against general strikes, from the laws that dictate you can only strike for your own self-interest, that basically legislate against solidarity. And of course you can only strike if you are in a union (ie have one available and the money to pay into it) which locks out many people from the opportunity to withdraw labour for collective political aims. 

This results in problematic situations where better paid groups of people strike to maintain their own position and their strike makes life terrible for the lowest paid in society. Which is very different from how strikes function in the private sector. One of the many many ways that public and private sector are different!

A transport strike for example may mean un-unionised poor families go hungry because they can't get to work or can't arrange childcare for the extra hours involved. And the strike won't help them get paid more. It won't improve their working conditions. And you aren't allowed to strike for improvement for all. For say free public transport or cheaper public transport. Strikes under modern law are only legal if they are going to divide people. 

The teachers strike is different (although it will of course still divide people.) 

Here is their statement

But the reason it is different is that it is as close to a solidarity based strike as you can get without being arrested. 

Because children are not paid anything to go to school. They have no contract of employment. If teachers lose their holiday and work longer hours and have systematic things put in place to make it harder to teach, and to teach well, then all that is also being done to children. And as usual the poorest children will suffer the most from that. Children don't have power in society and it is up to adults to protect them. 

Parents and teachers should be on the same page on this. Many parents aren't of course, particularly the poorer ones who see better off teachers asking for more. And who have the same kind of problems the poor always get when essential services are denied to them, childcare, salary loss, extra stress during hard times, etc...

But if the teachers don't manage to stem this tide it will be the children who suffer the most. That's the children of public and private sector workers, that's the future adults who will inherit so much shit already to try and deal with. 

And talking about attacking the poor and taking public services away from people, if you think a days strike is bad look at the general policies of the Coalition government. How many disabled people have died due to being found fit to work?

And to address the strawman issues. The actual ones teachers have to list as their main reasons to strike hours, pay and pensions:

Teachers already work long hours. They  work far longer than their hours, and whilst their job isn't manual labour (and I think teachers talking about it as if it is need to spend some time working in a factory) it is tiring physically as well as mentally. They have to create an emotional and educational landscape in their classrooms that will engage 30+ kids (and manual labourers talking anout that as easy need to spend some time working in a school.) My step-dad worked in both and I don't think he'd always say working conditions were better in a factory. I think he got physically attacked more working in schools. 

I'm not saying things are equal. Many teachers and definitely head teachers are paid much more than many of the rest of us (although not teachers starting out who are paying off debt etc... on the lowest band of salary). But at present teachers are losing both time and money. Politicians aren't. Bankers aren't. 

Teachers aren't striking for payrises. They are objecting to paying in more money to a pension pot which (rarely for pension pots in 2013) can currently cover itself. 

Pensions are tricky things. Most people my age assume we won't get them and if we do we'll be much older than the current retirement age. Sure it's hard not to see people who have something good when you don't and wish they didn't have it. And teachers areprivileged individuals and they don't all know it, so many of the things they say can, through a lack of awareness about other people's work conditions, pensions, salaries, be aggravating. But that's a reason to point out their privilege (privilege that is nothing compared to Michael Gove's privilege by the way) rather than going to war against them. They are doing an important and thankless job. And they are often working with and for children who are not privileged. 

And they aren't the only ones. Don't forget that schools staying open longer wont just impact on children and teachers. There are lots of other staff in schools. Ones who don't get teachers salaries; teaching assistants, caretakers, office staff, caterers, dinner supervisors. Their lives and working conditions are also under attack. 

This strike is the closest modern law allows to a strike based on principal and solidarity. If the teachers had the pensions and the hours that they want (ie the ones they agreed to when they signed up for teaching) they would still be fighting the education secretary and the horrendous policies being put in place. They would just have less ability to use the withdrawal of labour as leverage. 

We should all be refusing labour until this government stops attacking the people for a crisis created by and for the financial sector and political classes. Gove's department isn't the only one damaging us. 

We won't of course because we would lose our jobs and most of us can't afford to lose pay permanently. Many of us can't afford to lose a days salary. 

But just because teachers can doesn't mean their cause is wrong. 

I offer up full solidarity to the teachers and to the students and to the parents and to everyone being attacked by this governments policies. 

The responsibility for hardships felt by anyone today fall on the wealthy people in power whose divisive policies are designed to protect and extend the inequality that surrounds us and keep us fighting each other rather than fighting for each other.