— Ellen Morton
— EIS Glasgow (personal capacity)
As a primary school teacher and a rep, I have had the honour of standing shoulder to shoulder with teachers across Scotland these past months, fighting for a fair wage and proper funding for education.
The picket lines outside schools grew in number and in size with every strike day, as the majority of teachers like me took part in their first strike action. I have seen our union branches come together, not only to discuss the current struggle for fair wages, but to begin thinking about the underfunding and workload issues which plague our schools and the changes needed so that we have an education system which is fit for purpose for our students.
Every day the industrial action grew in strength and momentum, despite efforts by the Scottish Government and the media to pit parents and other workers against us. We had visits from binmen, posties, parents, nurses, builders, and lecturers on my picket line — all who braved the cold early morning weather to offer their solidarity and support to our struggle. There is a strong feeling in our schools and in our communities that no worker should be forced to take a pay cut, and we all have a duty to support those on strike.
That is why it was disappointing on Friday evening to hear that strike action was cancelled in light of a new offer which is apparently only 0.5% better than the last rejected proposal. In fact, when we take into account the new deal would be over a longer time scale, it is equivalent to the last one EIS rejected: 11.5% over 24 months is 0.48% per month, while 13.5% over 28 months is also just 0.48% per month. Instead of a real pay rise, this is already a 6% pay cut, and means in the long-term teacher pay will have declined by 30% since 2008.
This doesn’t even account for the fact that this deal locks us in for 2.5 years, and in this time period we have no idea what might happen with inflation. The world economy is in an extremely volatile state at the moment, with the entire capitalist system mired in crisis. It is highly probable that inflation could spike once again, threatening many teachers with a precarious financial situation.
In the long run, if pay continues to fall this will create a massive teacher recruitment and retention crisis, leading to staff shortages and huge class sizes.
Another issue with this offer is that it moves future pay negotiations to August instead of April. The union argues that this is a positive change because it moves our pay negotiations to a different time from other public sector workers’. Does this mean we should see other workers as competitors for pay?
Instead of trying to separate ourselves we should be linking up with nurses, cleaners, social workers, and civil servants. Through uniting and taking joint strike action we can fight the government’s attempts to suppress wages and ensure that all public sector workers get at least an inflation-value pay rise, this year and in the future. This movement could combine with unions in the private sector to fight for the interests of all working class people.
The Scottish Government and COSLA have told us this is the best offer we are going to get, that there is no money left. Have they not been saying this since February last year when they offered us a measly 2%? Obviously, it was a lie. Since then more money has been magically ‘found’ and more money can and will be ‘found’ if we are willing to fight for it.
Nor should we forget that Britain is one of the richest countries in the world, and there is no reason why teachers should be underpaid or schools underfunded in Scotland. While public sector workers have come under attack, the energy companies have been given free rein to line their pockets with bumper profits. In 2022 alone BP made £23 billion and Shell made £32 billion in profit.
This fortune is almost equal to Holyrood’s entire budget! Or, about 2% of it could be used to fill the £1 billion ‘black hole’ in council budgets across Scotland. The point is, it would be more than enough money to fund a significant pay rise for all public sector workers, as well as provide a huge injection of cash that schools, hospitals, and the social care sector desperately need.
The money is there, hoarded by the rich. Yet the government have clearly shown that they would rather attack workers than expropriate the big businesses which rob us of the wealth we have created.
We shouldn’t just accept this. Teachers have shown this year that we are willing and able to fight; that we won’t see our wages cut and the quality of education driven into the ground; and that when we stand together, we are strong.
Our union needs to be led with the same determination, by class fighters prepared to unite our struggles with those of all workers against capitalist austerity — and for a socialist programme to expropriate the billionaires and put the needs of people first.
I believe that we can win a real pay rise if we continue to fight. That is why I am voting to reject the current offer.