UK schools face looming teachers’ strike

Schools face disruption this Thursday, as teachers plan to go on strike for the day. The right to strike is enshrined in law. But do strikes always help the cause?

They disagree on most things, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband are united on this: they both want the teachers to call off their strike.

It won't make any difference. Most of the 30,000 state schools in England and Wales, as well as some independent schools, face disruption on Thursday as teachers walk out.

This is a battle about pensions. The Government has said it wants to increase teachers' contributions to their pensions by around 50%, which unions estimate will cost the average teacher £100 a month. In addition, it wants to raise the retirement age to 68.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL union, claims that such changes to pension rights would leave 'no honourable teaching profession. Good teachers won't want to go into the profession because it won't be worth their while to do so.'

The Government says what it proposes is fair and affordable for the country in hard economic times. They also point to the inconvenience caused by industrial action in schools, which causes a headache for parents with jobs to go to. 'I do want to emphasise,' says education secretary Michael Gove, 'that the public have a very low tolerance for anything that disrupts their hard-working lifestyles.'

There is strong support among teachers for the strike. 220,000 members of the NUT, the largest teaching union, were balloted over the issue. About nine out of ten (92%) of those who voted backed the strike action with a turn-out of 40%.

Whether or not a school closes depends on the head teacher: Gove has written to all heads saying it is their 'moral duty' to keep schools open. He has also suggested parents should go in and help run disrupted classes.

Abuse of power?

The Government implies that industrial action in crucial public services is an abuse of power that is not to be tolerated. In the words of Vince Cable, business secretary, it could lead to 'consequences' – a hint of future anti-strike measures that the unions condemn as a bully's threat.

In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights established strike action as a human right and history offers many examples of strikes that have brought much-needed social change. In 1980, for instance, in Poland, the ship workers of Gdansk took on an oppressive government. By closing all the ports, they ensured it was the government who had to back down.

But does that mean that every strike is a good way of making your point?

You Decide

  1. Should teachers strike on Thursday?
  2. In some countries, workers risk their lives to go on strike. Would you ever do that?

Activities

  1. One-minute Strike Rant soapbox. You have 60 seconds to stand up and make your point.
  2. Research one famous strike, starting with the links below. Describe why it happened, what happened and who won. Was the outcome fair?

Some People Say...

“Strikes are the only way workers can resist oppression.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is Ed Miliband against the strike?
He says industrial action is a mistake because it will harm the unions' ability to convince the public of their case. Strikes just make people irritated and should be a last resort.
What can the Government do about strikes?
London's Mayor, Boris Johnson has suggested making strikes illegal unless they are supported by a majority of members. Unions are compelled by law to conduct strike ballots by post but turnouts are frequently low.
Isn't the ATL a moderate union?
Historically, yes. A strike on June 30 would be the first time in their history that they've taken strike action.
Where does the word 'strike' come from?
It first appeared in 1768, when sailors, in support of demonstrations in London, 'struck' (i.e. removed) the topgallant sails of merchant ships in port making them unable to sail.

Word Watch

ATL
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, with a membership of 160,000 in both state and independent schools. Traditionally more moderate than the NUT.
Ballot
The ballot paper is the paper used to record someone's vote, usually secret; the word can also mean the vote itself, or be a verb meaning 'to hold a formal vote'.
Pensions
The money paid out to people, weekly or monthly, after they have retired from a job. The size of the payments depends on how much they have paid into their pension scheme and for how long and how much the employer contributes. It is also related to how much they were earning: the bigger the salary, the bigger the pension.

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