TEACHERS' leaders have thrown away a fantastic opportunity to halt New Labour's assault on comprehensive education in its tracks. Leaders of the largest teachers' union, the EIS, agreed a pay deal with employers which falls far short of what teachers and pupils deserve.
The employers, representatives of mainly New Labour controlled councils, conceded a 3.6 percent pay rise. Sustained opposition from teachers - including enormous union meetings and landslide votes against previous deals - meant New Labour felt unable to attach a host of nasty attacks to the rise.
These attacks have been at the centre of teachers' anger and fuelled the 98 percent vote in September against the employers' initial offer. They are about furthering market forces in education, raising class sizes, making teachers work longer hours, and undermining comprehensive education (as has happened across the rest of Britain).
But these policies remain at the heart of New Labour's vision of education, and have not gone away. Education minister Sam Galbraith has set up the McCrone inquiry into teachers' conditions. It is to report in March. That means the fight has merely been postponed, when EIS union leaders could have mobilised the teachers and parents to win outright.
Maureen Watson, a member of the EIS executive, told Socialist Worker, 'The feeling in my school on the Friday before the deal was unanimously for a one day strike and other forms of action. EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith said this deal was the best we could hope to get and we had to 'keep our powder dry' for battles next year. But education minister Sam Galbraith was all over the place. He said two weeks ago that 'teachers have no stomach for a fight'. Since then he has toned down the language and done his best to avoid a confrontation. The time for a fight is now.'
Who is out of touch?
MOST PARENTS have not fallen for the teacher bashing in the press. Malcolm Hamilton is a warehouseman in Cumbernauld and is campaigning to stop the closure of six local primary schools.
He told Socialist Worker, 'There is a lot of support for the teachers among parents. We can see the effects of underfunding. The council wants to shut six schools, including the one my eight year old twins go to. Cuts in funding lie behind that and penny pinching lies behind the attacks on teachers. New Labour wants to introduce performance related pay in schools. That's nonsense. Teaching is about teamwork and I don't want to see my children's education reduced to just passing tests. We have collected 7,000 signatures against the closures but New Labour councillors are still going ahead with them. They are the ones who are out of touch with the feelings of parents.'
Pressure from ordinary teachers has prevented union leaders from conceding entirely to their political friends in New Labour over the last year. That mood needs to be organised now to build the kind of leadership in every school which can act to defend teachers and pupils when the union's leaders will not. A good start would be for teachers and parents to inundate the EIS with letters deploring the retreat.
Educational Institute of Scotland, 46 Moray Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BH, fax 0131 220 3151.