Union-made column

History in the making?

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After provoking even headteachers to heckle him, Michael Gove's plans for a new curriculum for school history look to be in trouble. Andrew Stone looks at the growing campaign against them

It is quite an achievement to provoke a conference of headteachers to heckle you, but education minister Michael Gove has never been short of personal ambition. The high-handed arrogance which has characterised his treatment of teachers and schools, and which prompted the backlash from the recent NAHT conference, is equally evident in his plans for school history.

Sparks give employers a shock

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I started working in the construction industry in 1993 as an apprentice electrician. Since then I have witnessed not just the lack of real-term pay rises, but also a year on year assault on our terms and conditions through forced bogus self-employment. So when I received a text message at the beginning of August from the London construction branch secretary calling a meeting to discuss how the eight biggest electrical contractors in the country wanted to tear up our 30 year old national agreement, my heart sank.

Mapping the struggle

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I have been a socialist and active trade unionist all my adult life. As a local National Union of Teachers (NUT) officer it sometimes feels like we can be bogged down with case work, having to deal with bullying managers and teachers broken by the pressures of the job. However the last few weeks have been the most exciting of my working life.

The TUC demo on 26 March started to mobilise people for what everyone knew would be the battle ahead. Better organised schools had delegations on the demo and returned back to school more confident that they were part of a much bigger movement.

But the real momentum started after NUT conference over Easter, spurred on by the fact that another teaching union, the ATL, had voted unanimously to ballot for strike action. This is a union that has never taken strike action in its 127-year history. The feeling was, if they are prepared to strike then things have really shifted.

They won't divide us

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The female workers among Birmingham's refuse collection staff have been underpaid for years. They rightly put in equal pay claims and claiming for back pay, and this can range from £30,000 to £60,000 each. It should have been dealt with years ago, but it never was.

So the council had two choices: to bring the women's wages back up to our level or drop our money, which is exactly what they have done. It's loaders on the refuse collection side who have lost, ranging up to over £4,000. The drivers on refuse collections didn't lose anything. On my side of the council, the street clean team, it was our drivers who lost money, up to £3,000, but not workers like me who are considered street sweepers. We didn't lose anything.

The best is yet to come

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Holding the Islington NUT banner at the corner of Parliament Square last month, just before Eton-educated David Cameron and his new fag, Nick Clegg, were about to lead their MPs to vote for a trebling of university fees, my mind flashed back to October 1968.

Then, as a 17 year old apprentice telephone engineer, I had joined the second big anti Vietnam War demonstration that year to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square.

In some ways the protests were similar: the violence of the cops, the thousands of students who fought back and the rapidity with which things can change. But there is an important difference.

Fire in our bellies

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On 16 September, 2,500 firefighters (well over half of those not on duty) marched through London to the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to demand an end to the policy of mass sackings being considered by management and the Tory-led fire authority.


Photo: Tom Walker

When this was not forthcoming, it was announced from the steps of Brigade headquarters that we were serving them seven days notice of our intent to ballot for strike action. This was followed the next day by the result of a ballot for industrial action short of strike; a 95 percent yes vote on a 76 percent turnout.

Shame Academy

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The new government has launched a "radical reform" plan to expand the academies programme and introduce "free" schools. This threatens the future of state education by entrenching social segregation. It will also be disastrous for the pay and conditions of school staff and will destroy accountability and democracy in the education system.

Michael Gove, the new secretary of state for education, has written to head teachers in schools judged by Ofsted to be "outstanding" asking if they would like to become academies. The government has removed legal requirements for schools to consult staff and parents about the decision to turn a school into an academy. This is now decided at just one meeting of a school's governing body.

The anti-union laws

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Journalists at the Johnston Press provincial newspaper group in England have joined a growing list of angry workers who have been denied the right to strike by High Court judges.

I should have been on a picket line with my fellow NUJ members in Sheffield for the first one-day strike in 30 years that involved national action in regional newspapers. Instead I found myself on BBC Radio Sheffield, debating whether court decisions blocking action meant trade unions had lost the right to strike.

I am sure that the judges who took the decision a few days later to uphold the Unite union's appeal against British Airways staff taking action realised that many more people had drawn the same conclusion.

United in struggle

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Despite the huge outcry following the multi-billion pound bank bailouts, the mainstream parties still thought they could win support competing over who could make the deepest cuts to the public sector.

How can we build the strength and unity to resist the coming attacks? We could take the strategy used in Ireland, where the unions went along with the cuts despite popular anger. Or we can build on the Greek strategy, where outrage has been galvanised by the rank and file, forcing unions to call general strikes.

Following January's Right to Work (RTW) national conference in Manchester, 30 people who attended from Edinburgh returned to build a local rank and file campaign of solidarity and resistance.

IT: A lot to be angry about

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The image of work in the IT industry is dominated by the clever nerd lacking social skills and the highly paid consultant.

Yet recent months have seen Unite members in Fujitsu staging the first ever national strikes in IT, over jobs, pay and pensions. A group of Unite members in Hewlett-Packard (HP) have won union recognition and, after a one-day strike, a 2.5 percent pay rise. PCS members in HP also struck over pay and jobs. Union organisation has now increased across IT.

Many organisations now outsource IT work. Mergers mean services are dominated by a few multinationals, like BT, HP, Capita, IBM, Fujitsu, Cap Gemini, Accenture, CSC, Atos Origin and Steria.

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