Strikers at Forest Hill School in south east London are causing ructions in the local Labour Party in a deepening row over cuts. The NUT union members are battling a £1.3 million cuts package that Labour-run Lewisham council wants to push through.
They began a two-day strike today, Wednesday, following a 24-hour walkout on Tuesday of last week. Workers and parents also lobbied the council’s AGM on Monday—and got support from sections of the Labour Party.
NUT rep Joe told Socialist Worker, “Six Labour councillors signed our petition against the cuts during a lobby. We’ve got nearly 1,000 signatures now. But management isn’t budging, so we need to keep going.”
The cuts will mean fewer teachers and support staff, and a reduced curriculum. Workers say this will make their jobs impossible—and ruin children’s education.
Maths teacher Samuel told Socialist Worker, “Maths is being combined with the business department. There will be fewer teachers and they will be paid at a lower rate as well.
“The workload is already massive—you cannot manage it.”
Strikers’ main concern is the impact on children’s education. Striker Roisin said, “I’m concerned about students who have English as an additional language and the support they will lose.
“You can’t cut without hurting students. But students shouldn’t have to pay for the mistakes of the past.”
The cuts are supposed to be dealing with a deficit at the school. Yet the school pays nearly £1 million a year on a Private Finance Initiative contract.
Samuel said, “The council has a responsibility. It should take part of the debt or renegotiate the deficit so we pay it over a longer period. There is money there but they don’t want to give it to us.”
Roisin agreed. “When there were financial problems with the banks the government bailed them out,” she said. “I think there is money there that could resolve this.”
Parents and children have joined picket lines during both strikes. They plan to march with strikers tomorrow to hand in their petition to councillors.
“We don’t think they’ll accept it,” said Joe. “They’ve said we can’t give it in until 24 June. But we will turn it into a stunt.”
Parent Zoe told Socialist Worker, “We really need to put pressure on the council. They’re obviously not sure about what they are doing as they haven’t made any statement about it.
“They’re stonewalling us. They’re hoping we will go away but we’re not going to go away.”
NUT London regional secretary Martin Powell-Davies told Socialist Worker that the dispute is one of many across London as teachers fight cuts. “We can look at coordinating action across these schools,” he said.
Joe said strikers plan to name further strike dates this week, and are looking at holding a protest on a Saturday in April. “Councillors need to start listening to teachers,” he said.
“There’s already unfairness in the system, with some schools having much smaller class sizes than ours. The cuts will make it worse. It’s saying that education is the preserve of the wealthy and elite.”