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picket line at Clydebank High School

West Dunbartonshire teachers strike to defend education

Matt Dobson and Louise Donegan

Secondary school teachers who are members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union took strike action in the five schools across West Dunbartonshire on 12th January. The action was in defence of education services and against the Labour council’s “restructuring” of school management.

West Dunbartonshire Labour council plan to cut the number of principal teachers it employs, leading to the loss of specialist heads of department.

This loss of expertise, as the strike leaflet produced by the local EIS association explains, will lead to one “faculty principal” being responsible for a range of subjects that can be quite unrelated like PE and Home Economics – some of which they have no previous knowledge of.

The union, responding to teacher anger, has campaigned against these proposals culminating in today’s solid picket lines and strike action.

There is growing awareness resulting from this campaigning among other education workers, the wider community and parents that this “restructuring”, in reality cuts to education, are damaging to children’s secondary school experience.

The council are coming under severe public pressure. From 13th January, teachers will work to contract and there is a mandate for further strike action to come in February if the council do not change course.         

defending education

Eva, EIS school rep at Clydebank High School, spoke to the Socialist “We are determined that the council and education service managers get the message after being forced to close the schools to pupils. 88% of us voted for this strike. Today Unison and SSTA members (another teachers union) have reluctantly crossed picket lines, but they should ballot for action too as this will affect them”.

A key issue for the teachers taking industrial action is the cuts to pastoral care posts that go alongside the “faculty structure”. Liz McEachan, EIS school rep at St Peter the Apostle High School, told the Socialist: “Pastoral care, which as part of these plans sees a cut in posts, is vital for pupils with learning, social and behaviour problems and helps them reintegrate into the class or gives the flexibility to work with them in smaller groups. Teachers are mentors through pastoral care. What will happen if they remove that? It will have a profound effect on childrens’ learning. We are doing this for the benefit of the children, it’s with a heavy heart that we are not in the classroom today, but we are also angry and defending education as a service.

If a head of faculty doesn’t need to be a specialist in a particular subject and only needs managerial skills, then why not hire a manager from Sports Direct?”   

After well-attended picket lines at all the five schools, which were heavily featured in the Scottish news, hundreds of teachers and supporters packed into Clydebank Town Hall for a mass meeting.

solidarity

The gathering was chaired by Jim Halfpenny, EIS West Dunbartonshire joint secretary and Socialist Party Scotland member. Jim read out messages of solidarity and support that had poured in since the strike date was announced. Teacher’s unions in the USA and Canada, the NUT in England and Wales, national unions like Unite and PCS and other local government union’s such as Dundee and Glasgow Unison and EIS branches across Scotland sent support.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan addressed the meeting bringing full support and solidarity from the national union. Larry made the point that the faculty structure, rather than being innovative, was outdated and had already been abandoned by locals authorities like Fife when they were opening new schools.

He highlighted that the “restructuring” causes of this strike were a national issue, and that the battle in West Dunbartonshire was a model for elsewhere.

Larry pointed to both Labour and the SNP’s rhetoric over “protecting” education with the reality of cuts biting. Significantly, he said local authority unions needed to unite and fight together against the latest round of cuts.

In the view of Socialist Party Scotland, the fightback by West Dunbartonshire should be taken up by the union on a national level.  

Mick Dolan, Joint Secretary of West Dunbartonshire EIS, gave a detailed case against the faculty structures and condemned the glib attitude of the council in negotiating with the union, expecting teachers to carry the burden of their cost cutting. 

The mood in the room was determined, with many focused contributions on how the union can step up its media and parent engagement campaign and make the work to contract fully effective. 

not just letting off steam

There was a real sense this is the beginning of a fight back, not just letting off steam. This week’s council Labour group meeting will be lobbied by teachers.

Jim Halfpenny closed the rally by raising the need to link this teachers strike with the wider struggle against austerity, coming from the Tories and implemented by the Scottish government and councils. Teachers and all local authority workers need to unite with communities to fight all cuts. Reflecting the fighting spirit, all in the room stood up together and applauded.   

Socialist Party Scotland distributed “Support our striking teachers” leaflets that link the need to build support for the industrial action with the battle against massive local authority cuts over the coming weeks.

Our material raised the example of Glasgow and Dundee where the local authority unions are campaigning for no cuts budgets. The trade unions including the EIS urgently need to co-ordinate industrial action, mass protests at budget setting meetings and a conference to plan a national campaign against the cuts.