The biggest teachers meeting in Tower Hamlets for more than 35 years last week unanimously voted to ballot all NUT union members in the east London borough for strikes against cuts.
The 120-strong meeting last Monday saw teachers from more than 50 schools pack into the hall—and some left outside as they couldn’t get in.
The atmosphere was determined and sharply political. Speakers who argued that it was the bankers who caused the crisis and it was the bankers who should pay for it struck a real chord.
The vote means that all 2,000 NUT members in the borough will now be balloted on strikes—both on a one-day strike and on possible further action.
Meanwhile thousands of council workers in Tower Hamlets in the Unison union last week began an indicative ballot on strikes over the cuts. They hope to hold a full strike ballot to take united action alongside teachers.
Council workers in the GMB and Unite unions are also asking for ballots following a unanimous vote for a fight at an excellent 200-strong joint meeting of council workers.
This could result in a united one-day strike of thousands of public sector workers in March, in the run-up to the government s budget and the TUC demonstration on 26 March.
This would effectively be a political strike against the government.
Teachers in Camden, north London are holding an email indicative ballot – and plan to strike against cuts in that borough on the same day as the Tower Hamlets strike. A similar strike may take place in Haringey, north London.
And last week a bigger than usual NUT meeting in South Gloucestershire also voted to ask the national union for an indicative ballot of all members across the authority to test support for an authority-wide strike ballot against the cuts.
The Tower Hamlets NUT meeting last week was the culmination of weeks of determined campaigning in schools.
The cuts are in central services—services provided to schools by the local authority. Some support the most needy pupils, while others help teachers develop. Some 40 jobs face the axe as part of a wider cuts package that could slash 500 jobs across the council.
The local NUT branch took a decision to carry the argument into schools that the fight could not be left to the workers directly affected, but was one for teachers in schools across the borough.
Over 50 schools, around half of all schools, have now had meetings to discuss the fight. This has involved a wider layer of teachers visiting other schools after finishing teaching at their own school.
An action committee open to any NUT member who wants to get involved will meet this week to discuss building the strike ballot—and will be working to ensure every school in the borough holds a meeting to discuss the strike.
The same approach has been key to winning the argument for a strike over cuts in Camden, where upwards of 20 school meetings have taken place.
If we win the strike vote, the strike will be against the council. But every teacher and council worker knows that the source of the cuts is Downing Street.
At school meetings the argument that we must strike to send a message to the government that we will fight for education and public services has found an enthusiastic response.
This week local public sector unions are holding a public meeting in the borough to rally wider support for a fight against the cuts. Local Labour MP Rushnara Ali and Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman will join NUT and Unison speakers.
We have made clear to the council that they shouldn’t implement the cuts and that we will fight them if they do. But at the same time we want them to unite with us in building a fight against the government, including mobilising for the TUC demonstration on 26 March.
In the run-up to the strike teachers will leaflet local parents and housing estates. We hope to rally and march on the strike day and will call on all sections of the local community to join us.
Councils are pushing through huge cuts across Britain. Thousands of jobs face the axe. Everywhere socialists should be agitating for resistance, and strikes—and be at the centre of delivering a serious strategy to build support for them.
We may not win the argument everywhere, but we need to argue the case everywhere.
by Paul McGarr, teacher, Tower Hamlets