Scottish Government’s Cuts to Produce Industrial Action in Schools

By Tam Burke, Edinburgh

A big FAIL mark was given by teachers in Scotland to the Scottish Government just after the Tories’ general election humiliation. The AGM of the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland, the teachers union) unanimously agreed to prepare a campaign to restore salaries which have been severely cut by the continual 1% pay cap. If negotiations fail to achieve this for next year’s pay settlement, a ballot will be held for industrial action, including strikes, beginning at the start of the 2018-19 academic year.
Teachers have had enough of 1% pay increases which, as for all other workers, mean a pay cut when rises in prices and contributions paid by workers for national insurance and pensions are accounted for. The union’s fair pay settlement is set at 20% for the 2017 pay rise. This is a result of the long running cap public sector pay which has seen their pay fall by a similar figure over several years. The teachers’ mood is hardening.
This year has seen two periods of EIS Further Education College members taking action with rallies, strikes, picket lines and support from students causing disruption. The action was suspended after a deal brokered by the Scottish Government. It may resume if it is not implemented following the announcement on 12th June that several Councils cannot afford to pay staff the amount agreed. Workers in education are under pressure due to unrelenting cuts in spending. Staff must stand united in fighting back against the SNP Government and remind Nicola Sturgeon of her stated principle that “education is at the heart of our plans and I am committed to doing all I can to improve the life chances of every child and young person.”
The reality is the Scottish Government is bending the knee to the Tory Government by passing on the cuts to councils to do their dirty work, destroying services and hope. Then Jeremy Corbyn came along to inspire belief in the fightback against the Tories and that austerity can be brought to an end.
The GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) reported that in 2016 86% of its members reported increased workloads, 19 % had a decrease in workload satisfaction and 54% would not recommend teaching as a job. Implementation of a new curriculum, without sufficient preparation, has resulted in even more stress as teachers struggle to cope to do their best for their pupils. The SSTA (Scottish Secondary Teachers Association), the other teachers’ union, held their 2017 conference under the theme “Put pupils first – give teachers time to teach”. The question is how best to achieve that decent aim? In October 2016 SSTA members , on a 40% turnout, voted 91% for industrial action short of strikes, over issues such as extra hours workload, the failure to provide supply teachers to cover shortages and for more training time. The SSTA welcomed the Scottish Government’s pledge last year to provide modern school buildings, but stated “fundamentally the teacher in the classroom is the most important educational resource.”
The GTC found a lack of job share provision by employers for staff with families, that teachers on a three day week felt it equalled five days with the extra time need to cover vacancies that would not be filled due to cuts. A lack of permanent jobs means staff look elsewhere for work, not necessarily in Scotland or in teaching. The SSTA has highlighted the 1819 teaching posts lost between 2010 and 2016 due to the Tory Government’s cuts in money to councils for services, including education. This loss increases the workload of those left behind. This is the same reported for workers in the NHS. We support all public sector unions fighting together to defend public services and improve pay and conditions across the board.
Ultimately the Tory Government and capitalism are to blame. However, with only verbal opposition by the SNP Government rather than practical defiance in refusing to carry out cuts, it’s no wonder EIS members are preparing for strike action if negotiations fail. Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, stated to the AGM delegates that they were the key to victory, to encouraging members to support a ballot and to work for its acceptance. He reminded the AGM that under the Tory trade union legislation, every abstention counted as a no vote. The role of local reps and the active rank and file members are key to building members’ confidence to succeed. This struggle with the Tories involves the conditions of all workers in education, so requires widening the struggle to include joint action as “divided we beg, united we win”.
The teaching unions are non-party political, but undoubtedly many members are encouraged by the move to the left by a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. The fightback will more and more lead teachers to draw increasingly political conclusions. Only by taking the means of running of society out of the hands of the tiny minority whose self interest curtails educational spending and achievement and putting it in the hands of the workers under public ownership can we ensure a properly funded and well rounded education system

The Scandal of Research Assessment and Insecure Employment at Our Universities

By Sarah Wells, Glasgow

As the current academic term ends and studies conclude for another generation of undergraduate students, work carries on for the thousands of staff employed at universities and higher education colleges across the country. Just last year, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, analysed and released by UCU, revealed the true precarious conditions many of these workers face. During the period 2014-15 HESA states that on average 53% of all teaching and teaching/research academic staff were employed on an insecure basis, including casual worker contracts with hourly paid rates and fewer rights and protections, through to zero-hours contracts and temp agency work. Most shocking was the shameful revelation that the “worst offenders” were within the UK’s Russell Group; with an average of 59% of staff at these elite research-intensive universities employed on insecure contracts. During this period, Scotland’s Russell Group members, the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, employed 67% and 49% of their teaching and teaching/research staff on temporary or “atypical” contracts, respectively – despite both committing to increased tuition fees for international students and the latter undertaking a huge £775 million campus expansion plan.
Although the resulting backlash has driven many campuses to strive to eradicate this “Sports Direct model” of employment, such campaigns can only help to temporarily alleviate the symptoms of a far more fundamental problem, unresolvable so long as the education system continues as a mere instrument of profit in the capitalist system. UK universities depend on public funds to run, and therefore must demonstrate that they are a worthwhile investment, generating strong, high quality research. This research assessment, and hence the allocation of nearly £2 billion of annual funding to UK universities, has been carried out every 5-7 years since 1986 by REF – the Research Excellence Framework. It is ideally a tool for the unbiased analysis of research “outputs”, driving a commitment to excellence and transparency. However, as announcements are expected imminently for the proposed changes to the next REF, 2021, the fallout is still occurring from REF 2014.
Its critics are far ranging, from those who see it a as a bloated tool of bureaucracy, a “Minotaur that must be appeased by bloody sacrifices”, to a hypocritical system that is there to be played, driving a vicious culture of fear and blackmail. This game-playing to succeed in REF meant it was used as a management tool, driving a frenzy of hirings and firings. The technicalities of REF allowed institutions to submit the previous work of new staff members, with universities attempting to scoop up researchers of high status from other institutions, often hiring them on insecure contracts dependent on the outcome of their REF report. Researchers employed on short-term contracts of as little as a single day a week could be included. As only those staff members on research contracts were assessed, workers with chances of giving a less favourable REF report could be forced onto teaching-only contracts to selectively hide their outputs. There were countless accusations of ghost-writing of papers and research impact reports, as well as tailoring of publication dates and prestigious authorship placements.
This outcry has resulted in numerous research council reviews, a parliamentary bill and finally an independent review by Lord Stern. Although some suggested changes are mostly welcomed, such as the call for an inclusion of a measure of research impact on the public, many fear that others will still allow it to be used as a tool of fear against academic workers. For instance there is no guarantee that a move towards a more flexible assessment of all research-active staff will reduce gaming and unfair treatment of employees when the time comes for REF submission. The majority of academic research staff already face a career where insecurity is seen as the norm, and as the build up to REF 2021 continues there is the risk of even further instability and uncertainty. The rules for REF 2021 have yet to be announced but, despite any safeguards against this culture of gaming the system, it will be the workers at the bottom of the academic hierarchy who will bear the brunt of the clambering for reputation, status and funding.
As universities and colleges face cut after cut in public spending, with workers burdened with both rising workloads and falling pay and security, the effect on student education is clear, all while tuition fees continue to rise and prospects of better employment following graduation fall. What is required is true democratic control of academic research institutions, with universities and colleges ran for the better development of individuals and society as part of a planned economy, not for profit

Is Scotland Turning Conservative?

By Kit MacDougall, Glasgow

The results are in, and things are looking quite different for Scotland. Although the Conservatives have lost ground in England, they have made dramatic gains here for the first time in two decades. Since the 1997 General Election the Tories have managed to sustain an average of 1 seat in Scotland. They now have 13, spread mainly over the rural north-east, many of the seats that were considered SNP strongholds. The apparent rise in popularity for the Tories in Scotland, along with the decline in the SNP’s dominance over the country, has lead many to jump to the conclusion that the Scottish people are gradually losing their progressive edge, turning conservative in the face of change, and thus somehow becoming less Scottish.
It has always been considered the role of Scotland to counter Conservative rule in Britain, and up till now they have been seemingly reliable in doing just that. For many, the change represented in this election shows that people are turning their back on Scotland the brave, submitting to what many equate to rule by Westminster, i.e. England. In choosing not to vote SNP, these scots are making a statement, and that statement is that Scotland should remain part of the UK. After all, the Conservatives have firmly established themselves as the anti-independence party, the only people capable of holding off another referendum as long as possible. With another Scottish referendum as their main objective, the SNP have turned off many of the older voters in rural constituencies who would have voted for them in 2015, voters who have now turned towards the Tories.
However alongside this we have the Labour Party making gains in some urban constituencies, due almost wholly to appeal of Corbyn as a leader, though they have still got some way to go before re-establishing themselves as the main progressive force. Scottish Labour’s move to the right, its stance as anti-independence, which brought them into bed with the Tories in the ‘Better Together” campaign, and above all the lack of appeal to working-class voters meant that most of the left-wing electorate moved towards the SNP back in 2015 and have remained there today. But clearly some have been attracted back to Labour on the basis of Corbyn’s campaign and the prospect of a Corbyn led Westminster government. This is reflected not only in the few seats that Labour has won, but also in its increased vote share generally. Ironically, in some cases this may have helped the Tories to beat the SNP by reducing the latter’s vote, effectively splitting the left vote.
As for the right-wing labour voters, there now seems to be little appeal in voting for a weakened party, especially as the Scottish Conservatives have aimed themselves directly at those who identify as liberal, ‘progressive’, but anti-socialist, what we might call the ‘centre’ although that term seems to become less and less relevant every day. So rather than move right, Scotland has polarised, and with that has come the splitting of the left vote between the SNP and Labour, whereas the Tories have hoovered up all the right wing votes. Hence there is no sudden emergence of a new right wing.
The idea that Scotland has somehow always been an inherently progressive and yet tragically hindered nation is false. Although it is true that Scotland’s cities have largely maintained more socialistic politics, many rural areas in Scotland harbour quite different politics, based of course on laws of property and taxation, but also on opposition to what they see as an attack on the rural way of life by the urbanites. The Scottish Countryside Alliance supports the barbaric activity of fox hunting amongst other reactionary causes. Many citizens who we may presume to be the most pro-independence, i.e. the kilt-wearing, bagpipe blowing nationalists of the north, are in fact probably more likely to vote against the SNP.
On top of this we have the tradition, particularly in Glasgow, of the most reactionary kind of unionism, based on idealisation of the British Royal Family, preservation of protestantism and its culture, which is tied to a ridiculous hatred of catholicism, a hatred which is founded on nothing more than a cultural partitioning of the working class by political elites and which manifests itself in football hooliganism and general sectarianism. Thankfully this unionism, especially in the working class, is increasingly small and outdated, though it does exist.
In the end there is not much to be surprised about. Conservative layers of the Scottish population have existed for a long time, and it remains our job to combat the influence of these ideas on the working class, insofar as they are influenced by them. As Socialists we must understand that the only way forward is to counter this ideology by winning the labour movement to clear socialist ideas – because only a class conscious, urban working class can consistently oppose the basis of these reactionary ideas. And it is without doubt that conservative ideas are discredited and in decline in Scotland, especially the traditions associated with unionism. The SNP still dominates, and has been joined by a Labour Party gaining in support thanks to its left wing leadership.
Nevertheless this election has been a wake up call to the illusion that Scotland was on an irreversible march towards increasing left wing dominance, and that therefore we need not fight for class based ideas and can just rely on the vague left nationalist trend. By breaking with these illusions in Scotland as automatically progressive we can better understand that the left can go forwards only by fighting unambiguously for the interests of the working class, rather than taking them for granted. Through doing this we can organise ourselves into a real force for socialism in a Scottish Republic

 

New Challenges for YES Movement and SNP

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

“With the rise of Corbyn, the SNP government needed to move to the left. Given the actual rise of a Frankenstein Tory right in Scotland, we were hardly risking anything. Besides, this morning we might have been celebrating a Corbyn government backed by the votes of nearly 59 SNP MPs.”

Continue reading “New Challenges for YES Movement and SNP”

What the General Election results mean for Scotland

Editorial

The Tory Party has been humiliated. They’ve gone from having an overall majority to having to lean on the DUP. Corbyn is the hero of the hour having lead a campaign that inspired millions to vote and lead tens of thousands into political activity. The SNP still dominate Scotland by far but have taken a major kick. Key figures such as Alec Salmond and Angus Robertson have lost their seats. They’ve lost all their borders seats and much of the Highlands to Tories. In the central belt they’ve also lost seats to 6 seats to Labour who now have 7. They’ve even lost 2 seats to the Lib Dems.

Continue reading “What the General Election results mean for Scotland”

May’s Snap Election: A Marxist View

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

“She is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray in the Labour Party. That makes it all the more important that Scotland is protected from a Tory Party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right – forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process.”

Nicola Sturgeon responding to Theresa May’s call for an election.

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SNP Spring Conference: Membership Moving Left

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

The SNP’s 2017 spring conference came the same week as Sturgeon announced plans for a second referendum. This of course gave the event its main emphasis and themed how it was reported on by the mainstream press. However other factors were at play at this conference. Under the surface, the class contradictions that characterize the party were very present. A look at the conference can give us a clue into how Scotland’s very turbulent future will pan out.

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Sturgeon’s call for IndyRef2 sparks political storm

by Amy Dean

Nicola Sturgeon this week finally delivered the speech that had seemed almost inevitable ever since the Brexit vote in June last year. By announcing her intention to seek a second independence referendum, Sturgeon has started a political storm that will likely rage on – at the very least – until any referendum takes place. Continue reading “Sturgeon’s call for IndyRef2 sparks political storm”

Expropriate Landlords!

Shaun Morris

Nobody deserves to be homeless. A friend of mine is now facing homelessness just weeks before his final exams of university. I’m thankful not to be in his shoes, but it has made me think about how much power landlords have over their tenants’ lives.
My friend’s housing woes don’t begin with this eviction. He was kicked out of his previous home by an enterprising young landlord who wanted to convert his run-down suburban house into something he could flog on the market. Despite agreeing with the tenants to renew the lease, he changed his mind a few weeks later and told them to skedaddle.
This left my friend and his flatmates looking for a new place to live with only two months until the start of term. He feared he would have to move back to his family home and somehow commute over two hours to get to university. This was no real option, so he was forced to move into a place with a dodgy landlord.
The accommodation itself was an old townhouse that had been converted into a money maker. It was a single corridor with several rented rooms and a shared kitchen and bathroom. For this, the rent was not cheap but it wasn’t even near the university campus, a 45 minute cycle away. This is what students have to settle with when made desperate by the greed of landlords.
After nearly a year, the people living there were hit with a sudden demand to move out. As it turns out, the person they thought was their landlord was in actual fact a tenant. He was sub-letting the whole place to students without the knowledge of *his* landlord. He had even hung fake family photographs on the wall to support his story that it was a family home he had inherited! Once the real landlord had found out, he immediately demanded the place be emptied. With no lease and no rights, my friend and his flatmates are forced to squat there, fearing harassment or forcible eviction by the property owner.
For the second year in a row they find themselves desperately searching for a place to live, with final year exams looming. They’ve demanded that their rent be paid back to them, but there’s no way they can force the person who ripped them off to do this. All they can think to do is trash the place in revenge. My friend studies in Dublin, but his ordeal could have just as easily happened in Glasgow, Edinburgh or London (and I would bet it regularly does).
Rent is perhaps the clearest form of exploitation in capitalism. While people can incorrectly claim that profit is earned by the enterprise of the capitalist or interest (usury) is the cost of the risk a capitalist takes when lending money, landlords blatantly exploit the human need for shelter through their ownership of private property. What possible justification is there for this? Most landlords that students will have to deal with won’t even maintain their properties in a decent state, so what are we paying them for?
Young people have the poorest prospects for housing security than they have ever had. Home ownership is out of reach for a whole generation, throwing millions into the reserve army of renters that landlords can draw on to force rents up and conditions down when their tenants demand too much. With increasing casualization, exploitation and insecurity at work for young people, we are the worst hit victims of this crisis-ridden capitalist system.
Changing our fortunes requires a radical change in direction for our economy and society, demanding a break with capitalism and the exploitation it feeds off. We can abolish the current state of affairs if we struggle for the overthrow of the ruling class whose State defends the “rights” of private property over the needs of people. Our alternative is based on a democratic and socialist plan of production, where society’s resources are directed by need rather than profit, rent and usury.
That alternative begins with building a revolutionary labour movement that puts young people front and centre. It will be a movement armed with the broadest organisation of the working class and a revolutionary socialist programme. As Marxists we are at the forefront of preparing for this struggle.
Expropriate the landlords and capitalists! Homes and jobs for all!
Abolish rent, usury, profit and all exploitation! For world socialist revolution!Being a student in a time of capitalist crisis isn’t easy, and as many will know trying to make your loan stretch to the end of the month is a struggle. The days of generous grants seem a world away and it’s an endless juggle between money for food, rent, the electricity meter and having enough to buy a few pints at the end of the week. Of course, this isn’t just the reality for students but thousands of people across Scotland and Europe who have seen their standard of living plummet since the capitalist crisis of 2008 and the brutal austerity policies that have come as a result of it.
I was budgeting the other day when I realised just how much of my money goes on rent. For me two thirds of all the money I have coming in goes straight to my landlord and I am only left with one third for everything else. It struck me just how unfair this system is, where the law requires me to give the majority of the money I have to someone simply because they have a piece of paper saying they own the land and all that is built on it.
I do not live in a beautiful flat where the landlord works hard day-in, day-out to somehow earn these huge sums of money. In fact we had to argue with him for weeks just to get a fire alarm installed. There is damp and mould all over the place and the house was easily broken into because the building is so badly maintained. However the landlord continues to receive all this money for literally doing nothing. I’m not alone and I would argue that it’s a struggle for the vast majority of people in rented accommodation to get their landlord to do basic tasks and repairs.
Rent controls are obviously a start, however I believe we should go right to root of the problem; why should people be forced to pay rent at all? It isn’t right that landlords receive money from us just because they supposedly own the land or building. Why shouldn’t they work like everyone else? Under socialism we could have a system where these parasites are abolished and where society would collectively own the housing stock. No longer would we have to live with damp and unsafe houses, as these problems could be easily fixed if the money was in our own hands. Instead of profit being valued above all else, the aim of housing would be to create pleasant spaces for people to live, and everyone’s standard of living could be greatly improved.

Fight Trump! Fight Capitalism!

Later this month Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. His racism and misogyny during his candidacy have already made him a feared and unpopular figure across much of the world. Of course, this is nothing particularly new in Scotland where Trump and his golf courses have been causing controversy for a number of years.
Trump bought the land for his first golf course in Aberdeenshire back in 2005. It did not open till 2012 due to several objections from the local community surrounding environmental impact and its affecting their quality of life. In fact the plan required the support of the SNP government in 2007 in order to go ahead.
Since then relations between Trump and the SNP have somewhat soured. Trump and Salmond’s war of words on twitter culminated in Trump stating that Salmond “may be the dumbest leader of the free world”. He has also had his GlobalScot business ambassador status removed by present First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Where was all the love lost? Primarily through the issue of wind farms. Plans to extend the golf course in Aberdeen were halted by a proposed wind farm in the vicinity of the area. Trump attempted to prevent the wind farm – which he felt would be an eyesore – from being built through a number of legal actions, culminating in taking his case to the UK Supreme Court. He was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, this has not stopped him from buying another Scottish golf course.
Trump’s complete lack of regard for the importance of the environment and wishes of local people have been shown in his comments around the legal challenge and also his responses to questions at a Holyrood inquiry. He has repeatedly ignored the importance of reducing CO2 emissions, describing targets as “phoney” and “absolutely ridiculous”. Rather than appreciating the importance of maintaining the environment he has argued that business and profit making are what matter, stating that wind farms will only succeed in bringing down Scotland’s economy.
Trump’s position on wind farms is hardly surprising given he has previously referred to climate change as a “hoax” and currently plans to reduce funding for climate research. As socialists we understand the link between rising CO2 emissions and capitalism. Profit motivated big business owners like Donald Trump are simply more interested in their money in the bank than the future of the environment. It is key that we understand that it is through socialism and planning the economy for the needs of all rather than the short-term profits of the few that we can overcome the threat of climate change.
Many were justifiably angry and upset when Trump came to power, but now is not the time to mourn but to organise. Trump’s victory was based on the failure of lesser-evil liberalism, which has been increasingly exposed by the global financial crisis. Now is the time to fight back with socialist answers, as has already been shown in protests across America. Here in Scotland we can help through solidarity protests, including protesting Trump’s business ventures and anti-environmentalism here.