The Global Assault on Teaching , Teachers, and Their Unions

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Eds: Mary Compton and Lois Weiner, Palgrave Macmillan, £16.99

If you want to understand what is happening to education across the globe in the face of privatisation and marketisation this book is indispensable.

Mary Compton, an ex-president of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), and Lois Weiner, a teacher and researcher from New Jersey City University, have assembled a fascinating set of articles on the impact of neoliberalism on education globally.

The authors are passionate defenders of public education and this book argues that it can be defended if we have sufficient political will and get organised. Crucial to turning the tide - and the authors show how such attacks have been successfully resisted in the past - will be the struggle of activists to build fighting democratic teacher trade unions.

Compton and Weiner explain how the global neoliberal assault on public education is the direct result of policies driven by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. In order to sign up to the General Agreement on Trade and Services, for example, countries are forced to open up their social welfare and education systems to direct and indirect privatisation.

Various authors in the book give illustrations of how a tiny wealthy elite aims to commodify education and strip learning of its emancipatory qualities. It wants to reduce it to the acquisition of only those skills and competencies deemed appropriate to satisfy economic role requirements.

For this assault to succeed unions must be attacked, marginalised, and/or incorporated, staff must be tightly controlled and forced into "compliance", and democratic community influence must be destroyed. Some unions, to their shame, have gone along with "reforms" under the guise of a plethora of "modernisation" initiatives, for example Every Child Matters in Britain, in return for unfulfilled promises of influence. Others, however, have begun to organise and reorganise to fight back.

Now, at every turn, as pressures grow and recession deepens, resistance is growing and, as Compton and Weiner write, "we have seen evidence, in research and practice, that a more assertive and democratic union movement is possible and can turn back the neoliberal tide". In Britain we caught a glimpse of that resistance and fighting spirit in the fantastic united strike action against pay cuts and in defence of education on 24 April.

Compton and Weiner's book was written "in the hope that it will be a useful tool for activists in education who... want teacher unions to use their power to fight for and bring to fruition the ideal of a quality education for every child in the globe".

They have certainly succeeded, and this book should be required reading for everyone - teachers and lecturers, parents, students and pupils, community activists - who want to get organised to defend public education.