Around 30,000 teachers and their supporters marched through Glasgow on Saturday in a massively powerful display of their determination to win a 10 percent pay rise.
Given that there are 50,000 teachers in Scotland, something approaching half the entire workforce may have taken part. They came from schools in every part of the country, as far away as the remote Western Isles.
The front of the march was arriving in George Square before the back had left the Kelvingrove Park assembly point. “Two and a half miles of angry teachers,” as one marcher put it.
Organised by the EIS teachers’ union and supported by other unions, it was called around the slogan “Value Education, Value Teachers! 10 percentnow”.
The Scottish government, led by the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the Cosla council employers’ body, have made a “final offer” of 3 percent.
Those taking past were confident and determined to win more. They were also angry as their pay has been cut by nearly a quarter over the last decade in real terms.
“I’m not apologising for demanding10 percent,” teacher Margaret Andrews from Edinburgh told Socialist Worker. “What’s wrong with wanting back less than half of what’s been taken from us?”
Alison Palmer from Falkirk added, “Pay’s really important, but I also want action over the workload which crushes us. This is about education and the children we teach just as much as it is about pay.”
The large majority of those marching were women. Helen Patterson from Perth told Socialist Worker, “It feels like we’re making a bit of history today. We’ve been working so hard to make this march a success, but it’s much bigger than I expected it to be.
“We can win!”
It is the second time in a week that a great demonstration of working class women has filled Glasgow’s George Square.
A few days earlier Unison and GMB union members in the council’s education, social care, cleaning and catering services had struck for two days for equal pay.
Whenever one of the speakers at the teachers’ rally made reference to the strike there were cheers from the crowd. But it was a mistake not to have a speaker from that strike at the rally.
Union leaders need to break from their sectional attitudes and learn how one battle can give confidence to others.
John Swinney, deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for education, has threatened to go over the heads of the unions and write to teachers urging them to accept the offer.
Teachers and their unions are outraged.
There is real pressure on Scotland’s political parties over teachers’ pay. Richard Leonard, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, told the rally, “It’s time to stand up and fight. I fully support your campaign.”
SNP MP Chris Stephens offered his support and said, “I have rung the Scottish government and will do so again. We have to find a way of sorting this.”
He told SNP members in the crowd that he knew they are “hurting”. “My door is open,” he said.
Such support is welcome. But it will take action to shift the government.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan told the rally that teachers had shown they think “Scottish education is worth fighting for”.
He said teachers were “scunnered [fed up] to the back teeth but are now ready to rise”.
The biggest cheers came when Flanagan said the union could move towards strikes. “We will continue to seek a negotiated settlement,” he said. “But I want to be clear, if and when push comes to shove we will ballot for industrial action.”
He added, “We will smash the Tory ballot thresholds out the park. There’s no point settling for half of what we want and then coming back. We have to win.”
But those fighting words have not been matched by the union’s tactics. On Tuesday a ballot begins on whether or not to accept the 3 percent offer. Then, say union leaders, there will have to be an indicative ballot on strikes and then a formal strike ballot.
That’s too slow. The immense momentum shown by this demonstration must not be wasted.
Charlotte Ahmed, an EIS school rep and a member of the Glasgow EIS committee of management, told Socialist Worker, “This is a great demonstration driven by the rank and file of the union. It really shows the mood to fight. Now we need to get on with it.”