The success of the NUT union’s national teachers’ strike last week shows what’s possible when workers get organised. There was a mood of confidence and defiance on picket lines, rallies and demos in many towns and cities.
Media outlets looked, often in vain, for parents or members of the public to denounce the strikers.
In fact the teachers had the support of everyone who wants to see the Tories take a hit.
This wasn’t simply a dispute about workers’ conditions. It was a rejection of what the Tories, and in particular hated education secretary Michael Gove, want to do to state education.
The popularity of the slogans and chants against Gove show the strikers see their fight as a political one.
But it’s been over two years since the last national NUT strike and there is a danger that the union leadership will step back from escalating the action again. It shouldn’t assume workers’ confidence can just be sealed in a bottle to be used months later.
The big public sector strikes of 2011 were magnificent. They culminated in 2.6 million people striking on 30 November. But when some union leaders retreated immediately after that, the momentum was lost and never regained.
It also meant that the model for the public sector strikes became seen as set piece one-day strikes. Employers or the government can usually organise to ride out one day of action.
What they would really struggle to cope with is escalating or indefinite action. The combination of solid national action that broke out of the mould of the one day set piece strike would have a massive impact.
It could not be ignored—and if the government was convinced that the union was not going to give up it would be forced to respond. Such action would find a deep well of solidarity among working class people.
And if the teachers won imagine the impact that would have on other workers fighting over pay, pensions and cuts. It would boost everyone fighting the Tories’ austerity.
The lesson from some of the recent local strikes has been that workers can win if they deliver solid action and show they are determined to escalate until management backs down.
Right now the teachers have an opportunity to take the struggle against the Tories forward while they have the momentum on their side. A strike shouldn’t simply be seen as a form of protest. Workers have the power to deliver action that can really bite and wipe the smug smiles off the faces of all the Tories.