Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Support the Teachers!

Teachers around the country are on strike today over the miserable pay deal offered by the government. They deserve the support of all other workers fighting the advance of neo-liberalism and marketisation. The teachers union, the NUT is mourning the death of its' General Secretary that happened a short while ago, but they are in militant mood. Many teachers that I have spoken to have grievances far beyond the miserable pay deal - in particular the unending tide of bureaucracy and form filling that afflicts much of the workforce in Britain under this hybrid government that is economically neo-liberal and temperamentally Stalinist.

The importance of this dispute and the education sector as an organised part of the labour (small l !) movement is shown by the hostile response of the media (some of whose wet-behind-the-ears journos seem to regard strikes as archaeological novelties from before the age of cosmopolitan consumerist indifference) and the comments of the less guarded representatives of the ruling class like the Daily Telegraph editorial staff and leading Tory back room boys - one of whom has called for the NUT to be "smashed like Thatcher smashed the miners" in order to open the way to the sunlit uplands of a fragmented, part-privatised education system primarily serving the interests of corporations and the right-wing individualist elements of the middle class.

A sweep of the Brit blogosphere on the issue also reveals the deep current of hatred and authoritarianism that runs barely concealed beneath the surface of Jeremy Clarkson land. Whatever working people do that annoys some of these right wing reactionary bloggers has a good chance of being a positive thing in my book.

Beyond this defensive action on behalf of the teachers is the need for a vision of an education system that meets the needs of young people and helps integrate them into a caring and progressive society, rather than treats them as little more than production units and statistics. We need an education system that is a co-operative endeavour between students, teachers and the wider community, not one that is chiefly about churning out dubious data to cover the government of the day's political back. Young people are not lumps of wood to be shaped impersonally into "competitors" in the global marketplace, they are human beings. The fact that the human needs of young people - for companionship, love, goals, common purpose, identity, belonging - are often not being met in the home, in society or in the target-terrorised education setting is one of the main factors in the social problems faced in many parts of Britain. These are the social problems about which all the media and politicians love to alternately wring their hands and sound off about (usually ineffective) crack-downs. The irony is that if those working at the coalface of education, youth and social issues and the young people themselves were consulted in a meaningful way then solutions to many of the educational and social issues affecting young people in this country would become clear very rapidly. The problem is that those solutions would not fit into the neo-liberal economic straitjacket that has been accepted across the political establishment. The tragedy lies in the widespread belief that as Thatcher said "There Is No Alternative", and the opportunity lies in the likelihood that in the bleak economic times to come this belief will be tested to destruction.

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