Millions of workers are struggling to survive in Gordon Brown’s Britain. But Thursday 24 April is the day we can start to fight back. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, lecturers, civil service workers, council workers in Birmingham and other groups of workers will all be walking out on that day over pay.
We will join together on picket lines, on marches and on rallies to protest against Brown’s public sector pay limit and his government’s plans to make working people pay for any economic crisis.
We are seeing cuts and privatisation across our public services. We are all expected to work longer and harder for less pay. This is leading to overwork and stress among all workers.
I work between 50 to 55 hours a week – planning lessons, teaching and marking. The average hours a teacher works each week is 51 in secondary schools and 52 in primary schools.
All the while we are facing rising costs and debts – and we are priced out of the housing market.
Young teachers increasingly cannot afford to live in the areas in which they work. In London 50 percent of new teachers leave the job within the first three years.
I have just scraped together enough to buy 40 percent of a small flat in London. The combined rent and mortgage come to over £1,000 a month.
I expect to be worse off next year because I’ll have to start repaying my student loans.
New Labour’s priorities have never been clearer. Huge numbers of the lowest paid workers became even worse off last week thanks to the scrapping of the 10p rate for income tax.
Yet tax for corporations was slashed once again from 30 percent to 28 percent.
The government claims that inflation is currently around 2 percent. But anyone who has gone to the supermarket or had to pay a fuel bill in the last six months will know that this is not true.
Food prices increased by 7.4 percent in the last year and fuel costs have gone up by as much as 17.5 percent. Millions of us have been affected by huge rises in housing costs.
The government says that public sector workers are to blame for inflation. The reality is that we are the ones suffering from the effects of their crisis.
New Labour has presided over a society of deepening social divisions, where the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing daily.
While attacking workers, it has done nothing to curb the obscene bonuses that City bankers give themselves.
There is a deep rage against this government everywhere.
This is feeding into a growing sense that we can change things if we start to organise ourselves and fight back.
Thursday 24 April is about far more than simply the issue of pay.
It will represent all the anger that exists against the government’s market-driven agenda and what it has done to our public services and the people who work in them.
Among teachers and lecturers there is a feeling that the government’s distorted priorities are destroying the education of children and young people and making the job of teaching more and more difficult.
The system of testing children as young as seven and judging schools by test results and league tables has meant that many of our children are unhappy and suffering from stress.
Teachers, often in charge of classes of 30 or more, are also feeling the strain of an excessive workload.
In further education 82 percent of staff have reported increasing workloads and more stress.
On 24 April we will see a number of different unions combine their strength to make their action more powerful. Many activists in the unions have been arguing for this for months – and now it is happening.
A day of united action will demonstrate the power of workers to challenge the government’s offensive – and to hit back successfully.
Thursday 24 April should represent the start of an offensive against all the government’s hated policies – an offensive that other groups of workers facing the same problems should join.
A week later we have another chance to take the same message to the government in the elections taking place on 1 May.
The London assembly elections and council elections in England and Wales provide an opportunity to connect the anger and activism of those involved in the strike to a radical political alternative.
I am supporting the Left List in the 1 May elections. The Left List has pledged its support for our action and will be sending members to picket lines to show solidarity.
It represents all those who are sickened by a government agenda of privatisation and war.
The Left List can provide a voice for those who want to fight to put people before profit.
That political alternative, combined with a resurgent workers’ movement striking hard against the attacks
we face, can start to turn the tables on Brown and the bosses who have made all our lives so hard over the last few years.
Jess Edwards is a young teachers’ rep in the NUT. She writes in a personal capacity