Unions to join forces for strikes over cuts

17th September 2010 at 01:00
Mass walkouts on the cards as they decide tactics for public spending dispute

Teaching unions are considering joint national strikes for the first time since the 1980s in a bid to derail dramatic public sector cuts, The TES has learned.

Mass walkouts are expected by the end of the school year if the Government presses ahead with the cutbacks due to be announced in next month's comprehensive spending review.

Teachers, support staff and even heads could join the industrial action, union leaders have warned. Their broadside came as the TUC this week called for an "alliance" of public sector unions to fight public spending cuts.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said co-ordinated industrial action would be unavoidable if the Government goes ahead with its plans to wipe out the budget deficit by 2015. It would lead to redundancies and poor pay deals and undermine pensions, Ms Keates said.

"When people start to see what the cuts mean, there could be unprecedented resistance to them," she said. "If the Government continues down this path industrial action will be inevitable."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "At the moment we are seeing young teachers finding it hard to get jobs, but headteachers are gearing up for redundancies.

"Members are going to be extremely angry when these cuts hit home. Teaching and education unions will be prepared to take action by the end of the school year."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said she would discuss combined industrial action if faced with "extremely grave problems".

"We did take concerted joint action with the other unions over pensions before and this could happen again," she said.

It is still unclear how severely the Department for Education budget will be cut over the next four years, when the spending review is announced in October. Some departments are expected to be hit by cuts of up to 40 per cent, although education is unlikely to be among the worst affected.

Industrial action by teachers is likely to be backed up by thousands of support staff, from teaching assistants to dinner ladies, who are expected to be disproportionately affected by the cut backs.

Christina McAnea, head of education at Unison, said industrial action by her members, supported by the teaching unions, could potentially cause "chaos in classrooms".

"If they cut back on support staff then schools will have to cut back on things like PPA time for teachers, and that will lead to discontentment everywhere," she said.

The union has already agreed to consult members on industrial action if the Government drags its feet over establishing a national pay structure for support staff.

Ms Keates said she expected headteachers' leaders to join in the resistance against cuts. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he would not "like to rule anything out". He added: "I can imagine such a situation that the cuts were so dramatic that this might happen."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that it would be an "extreme step" for his members to take action, but that it was "not beyond the realms of possibility".

Even though an official agreement over industrial action is yet to be drawn up, increasing levels of partnership between the unions have been in evidence since the coalition Government came to power.

The three classroom teaching unions worked closely over the summer to protest against Michael Gove's plans for thousands of academies and independent, taxpayer-funded free schools.

In a TUC fringe meeting on the privatisation of state education, Mary Bousted said there had been an "outbreak of unity" among the public sector unions over a whole range of issues. "You won't be able to put a cigarette paper between us on the issue of academies and free schools," she said.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "ADD departments are expected to be hit by cuts of up to 40 per cent, although education is unlikely to be among the worst affected.

Industrial action by teachers is likely to be backed up by thousands of support staff, from teaching assistants to dinner ladies, who are expected to be disproportionately affected by the cutbacks.

Christina McAnea, head of education at public service union Unison, said industrial action by her members, supported by the teaching unions, could potentially cause "chaos in classrooms".

"If they cut back on support staff then schools will have to cut back on things like PPA time for teachers, and that will lead to discontentment everywhere," she said.

The union has already agreed to consult members on industrial action if the Government drags its feet over establishing a national pay structure for support staff.

Ms Keates said she expected headteachers' leaders to join in the resistance against cuts. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he would not "like to rule anything out".

He added: "I can imagine such a situation that the cuts were so dramatic that this might happen."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that it would be an "extreme step" for his members to take action, but that it was "not beyond the realms of possibility".

Even though an official agreement over industrial action is yet to be drawn up, increasing levels of partnership between the unions have been in evidence since the coalition Government came to power.

The three classroom teaching unions worked closely over the summer to protest against Michael Gove's plans for thousands of academies and independent, taxpayer-funded free schools.

In a TUC fringe meeting on the privatisation of state education, Mary Bousted said there had been an "outbreak of unity" among the public sector unions over a whole range of issues.

"You won't be able to put a cigarette paper between us on the issue of academies and free schools," she said.

The Department for Education declined to comment.

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