Union attacks 24 teachers but...
'We back Kingsland staff'
"IT IS not often you see school students fighting to get into school. But this is our school. We should have a say in what happens. Instead the school is being run down. We are called failures and the people with power are talking about sacking our teachers. We aren't having it any more."
That is what a pupil at Kingsland School in Hackney, east London, said on Monday of this week. The pupils were demonstrating in support of 24 teachers who are under attack from management and who were suspended from their own union, the NUT, last weekend.
Police barricaded the school entrance on Monday to stop 200 teachers and school students getting into the school to stand alongside the 24 as they were dragged before a disciplinary panel. The teachers' "crime" is that they stood by a basic trade union principle. They struck for a day last month when they heard that the school management was taking action against one of their colleagues, Indro Sen, who is also a joint NUT union rep.
School management began an investigation into whether Indro Sen, the head of the maths department, is a competent teacher following a critical report by inspectors. Kingsland teachers, pupils and parents could not believe it. Indro Sen is one of the most skilled and dedicated teachers you could ever hope to meet.
The local paper, the Hackney Gazette, ran a story about him a few weeks ago. He was pictured, during the holidays, with a blackboard at a local park helping students who were revising for their GCSEs. "He is popular because he is brilliant," said student Tara Quigley on Monday. If they even talk of getting rid of him they are attacking every student in this school and everyone who has been to this school. That's why I am here, and why I am with all the teachers who are standing by him."
Teachers in the NUT union walked out in Indro Sen's support. The school management-in cahoots with Nord Anglia, the private firm which now runs schools in Hackney-began disciplining them. Indro Sen is Asian. Nord Anglia was recently found guilty of race discrimination at an industrial tribunal.
National leaders of the NUT refused to back the walkout. They then suspended the 24 teachers from the union. This was just three days before they were due to attend Monday's disciplinary meeting, which could have decided to sack them. It is the first time NUT leaders have suspended a group of teachers from union membership since 1985.
Union members were sickened as news of the suspensions spread. There were teachers from 18 schools in Hackney and other parts of London on Monday's protest, which continued for two and a half hours despite torrential rain.
Kingsland teacher Monica Brady told Socialist Worker, "This protest is so heartening. You can imagine how angry and upset we felt to get a letter on Saturday suspending us from the union two days before we faced serious disciplinary charges." Fellow teacher Jackey Dawnay said, "We need to campaign quickly in every school across the country. Our union leaders haven't been prepared to stand up to the government over performance related pay and other attacks. That's bad, but I guess you come to expect that. But that doesn't give them the right to stick the boot into those of us who are prepared to stand up and be counted. It's a bloody outrage."
Fight this serious attack
THE KINGSLAND School teachers were expecting to be handed final written warnings as Socialist Worker went to press this week. Management and Nord Anglia want to break the collective strength of the union in the school.
Kingsland has a well organised union group which fought a campaign against an Education Action Zone, a form of privatisation. Education bosses in Hackney also want to break the fighting spirit of Kingsland students who staged a brilliant walkout against the EAZ last year.
That is why the NUT's backstabbing suspensions are so serious. The teachers could be on final written warnings without a union to defend them. But activists have responded quickly. They leafleted every school in Hackney on Monday morning. Petitions condemning the suspension from the union circulated in scores of schools at the beginning of this week.
"The union leaders are acting from a position of weakness," said Jane Bassett, NUT rep at Stoke Newington School in Hackney, where teachers voted to strike unofficially if any teacher at Kingsland is sacked.
"There is such a feeling about this. We can win if we build a revolt of union members against the national leaders who have sold us out over so much." There were strong delegations on the protest from Islington Green School, Islington Arts and Media School, and other schools which have been battered by Ofsted and half-baked New Labour education gimmicks.
Activists are arguing for a national campaign to defend teachers at Kingsland. Teachers everywhere need to:
- Circulate petitions defending the Kingsland teachers.
- Send motions and letters of protest to the NUT nationally.
- Send messages of support to Kingsland teachers and call upon the governors to drop the disciplinaries.
- Call meetings in schools now and build for a defence meeting in your local area.
- Help build a national defence campaign.
- Messages of support to John Yandell, NUT Rep, Kingsland School, Shacklewell Lane, London E8 2EY. Fax 020 7690 4611, e-mail email@example.com.
- Protests and petitions to Steve Sinott, chair of the NUT disciplinary committee, NUT Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1. Fax 020 7387 8458.