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