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Workers mobilise against education cuts 

John McAnulty

15th May 2005

There was a mass turnout of ancillary workers in education across the North in Friday’s (13th May) day of action against the cuts in the education service recently imposed by the Labour government. There was no doubting the anger of workers, many of whom are facing wage cuts or the sack as well as seeing the needs of some of the most vulnerable special needs children in the education sector ignored.

The pickets and demonstrations were an inspiring display of militancy and solidarity. One would have to look closely to see the invisible threads binding and restricting this militancy.

But the fetters were there. The instructions from NIPSA, UNISON, ATGWU and GMB unions to their members were to mount the pickets outside the schools where they worked but not to request that teachers and other staff not taking action stay out in solidarity. Instead they were simply to ask the other workers not to carry out work that would normally be done by the striking workers.

The pickets were not to picket in the traditional sense of forcing the closure of their workplace. There were two fetters preventing this. One was the Industrial Relations Act, passed by Thatcher and kept by Blair, which outlaws any call for solidarity or any action by workers other than the narrowest of actions linked directly to their dispute.

The other fetter was visible in statements of solidarity from NICTU and from the teaching unions which echoed, in careful choreography, the advice to continue working but not to carry out the work of the strikers. The INTO statement, in rueful acknowledgement that their advice was to do nothing, said they would nave preferred co-ordinated action by NICTU, but that in the absence of such action their members should do nothing!

The results of this diplomacy between the union leaderships was that the militancy of the picket, designed in struggle to broaden and widen action, was converted into a protest action limited to the workers directly involved.

The problem is that the Government action is a broad global action designed to lead to a reduction in the wages and conditions of public service workers. Narrow protests, even if repeated in a series of days of action, will not be able to counter this. This must be perfectly obvious to NIPSA, who were recently defeated in a dispute about civil service wages involving relatively long-running action restricted to a narrow layer of civil servants.

A successful campaign against the government on this issue would require the mobilisation of the entire public service workforce. That means breaking laws designed to prevent such mobilisation and it also means breaking with the cosy ‘support’ organised by the union bureaucracy that binds the workers when they try to resist.


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