'I'M INSULTED. We've got wishy-washy people telling us things we already know.' That was the reaction of Jo Arrowsmith, a teacher at Fortismere School in north London, to a farcical rally on Wednesday of last week called by the teachers' NUT union.
She was one of about 400 teachers who thought they were attending an important rally to advance the campaign to increase London allowance payments. 'Instead all we got were balloons, hats and a compere. The representatives of the three unions spoke but did not offer one concrete step over how we are to go forward.
'We've just had a brilliant one-day strike. You would not know that from the rally.' Teachers were furious that union leaders at the rally did not even put a figure on the claim for an interim payment over London allowances, which it was meant to launch.
There were groans when the Tory education spokesperson was invited to speak. 'It was terrible,' said Rekha Bansal from Heathland School in west London. 'We wanted to know what will happen next. 'You could tell how angry people were in there, and there were some good points made when people got to speak from the floor. I'm not disheartened by this. I'm angry more than anything else.'
The following day she, along with 14 other teachers at the school, fired off a letter to NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy calling for a serious campaign of action to increase pay in London.
Younger teachers are hardest hit by the exorbitant cost of housing in London. This Friday was the deadline for teachers to hand in resignations if they want to apply to schools out of London or to leave teaching in September. Doug McAvoy hinted that the same day was also a deadline for education secretary Estelle Morris to offer some improvement in London allowances.
The campaign is far from over. But last Wednesday's rally showed just how hard teachers in London are going to have to push to get further industrial action from the NUT and the other teachers' unions-the NASUWT and ATL.
All three are now part of a joint campaign, but have yet to call any action. That means local associations, reps and school groups are going to have to take the initiative locally and across London. Part of that is linking up with the mood among other groups of workers who are fighting over pay.
Teachers in some schools took a significant step by either not crossing picket lines set up by striking Unison union members two weeks ago, or organising to support them.
In two weeks time there is the opportunity to deepen that grassroots solidarity when Unison members in London are set to strike for two days over London allowances.
School union groups also have the chance to invite in lecturers, who struck this week, and firefighters, who are to march over their national pay claim on 11 June. All this can build the mood for further strikes by teachers and for united action over pay and other issues across the public sector.
As Ceri Watts, a teacher from Gillespie Primary School in north London, told Socialist Worker at last week's rally, 'There is a feeling that we should be taking action all together. That would have a huge impact.'
IN A display of pupil power, students at King Edward VII Secondary School, Sheffield, organised a boycott of their canteen last week. The canteen is run by Sodexho, the multinational running New Labour's refugee voucher scheme. The company runs several school canteens in Sheffield under a PFI scheme.
A group of students put out flyers calling on others to bring packed lunches. The boycott has so far been very successful and the number of people actively involved has been increasing. Sodexho runs a system where students pay for their lunch with a personal smart card that they can top up over the internet or by machine. The students' demands include the removal of a £6 charge to replace lost smart cards.
They also want to see additional machines for top-ups and a better quality of food at a more reasonable price. The boycott made front page news in the local press last week and has already succeeded in forcing Sodexho's regional head to meet the students.
MEMBERS OF the teachers' NUT union in Sheffield are currently voting in an indicative ballot for industrial action over the threat of teacher redundancies. At least 21 teachers may lose their jobs in August. One of the reasons is that Bracken Hill Primary School is to merge with Hinde House Secondary School.
WALTHAM FOREST'S New Labour council has stirred up anger among teachers and parents across the borough. A year ago the council handed control of the local education authority to a private company, EduAction.
Now schools in the borough face a funding shortfall, highlighted in a letter sent to education secretary Estelle Morris by 40 local head teachers. The NUT estimates that 35 primary schools and all secondary schools face cuts. The Parents' Action Group, and the local NUT and Unison unions, are organising protest petitions and public meetings.
Waltham Forest councillors also want to close the Queens Road education centre nursery, sell off a Chingford nursery and reorganise three existing nursery schools.
Teachers make up the majority of the parents who use the Queens Road nursery. The changes would mean a minimum of 15 compulsory redundancies.
Lobby the council meeting, Tuesday 11 June, assemble 6.30pm, Town Hall, Forest Road, Walthamstow.