Anarchist teacher perspective on strikes
By an AF member, published in Freedom, vol. 72 no. 16.
With the up and coming Nov 30th general public sector workers strike and ‘day of action’, and the Nov 9th national demonstration for education we re-visit an article written by an anarchist teacher after the recent June 30th one day strike as a useful guide to possible strategies and how we can best utilise our resources and organise as a movement against the cuts.
As an anarchist, I was not initially impressed by the idea of a one day strike. It didn’t sound very militant- going out on strike at the end of term after the exams were over when the students were about to finish in any case; there wasn’t going to be much impact. However, having now experienced the build-up to the day, the day itself and the aftermath, I now think that the were many positive benefits in helping to build more long-term resistance to both the issue of pensions and the cuts in general.
Before the strike
- There was much discussion amongst staff about the issues of pensions and what is happening to education in general.
- People began to think outside their own immediate situation and were more aware of how government policies are affecting their lives.
- There was debate about the whole idea of going on strike with people expressing a desire to ‘do something’. The act of going on strike made people feel that at long last there were able to express their anger at what is happening.
- The problem of divisions between different unions was made apparent. Many people wanted to support the strike but could not because ‘their union had not called them out’. The principal reinforced these divisions by sending out a strongly worded letter about people being in ‘breach of contract’ if they went on strike, especially if they were not in a union that was striking. There was much discussion of the issues we all have in common with support staff, who are in Unison and therefore were not officially on strike.
- The strike provided the opportunity to discuss general educational issues with students and of furthering links between staff and students. There was much sympathy for the strikes.
- In general, the strike provided the opportunity to discuss politics at work.
- The strike also provided the anarchist movement with the opportunity of developing its role as a source of solidarity as well as a sound analysis of the situation. The anarchist role was to stress the background to the attack on pensions (banking crisis and bail-out, ideological attack etc) as well as arguing for the unity all education workers, including the ‘users’ of education, in a common campaign.
- The Solidarity Federation produced useful leaflets that other anarchists could use. The focus was on unity of all staff, students and parents. In addition, the leaflet raised general issues affecting education such as EMA, rather than focusing solely on pensions. My comrades in the Anarchist Federation leafleted outside my college and I helped leaflet outside another comrade’s college.
The Day of the Strike
- The strike was almost 100% supported by union members. Very few students came in. However, other staff crossed the picket line, despite many expressing sympathy. The college was described as a ‘ghost town’ on that day.
- Many people went on the demonstration who wouldn’t normally go. There is more interaction between NUT members on a borough-wide level.
- There is a general feeling of anticipation- that there is more to come. However, this feeling could easily dissipate over the summer holidays.
What to do now
My role as an anarchist in my college is to make sure that the momentum to build a movement of resistance is kept up. There are a number of things to be done.
- Regular meetings that involve as many people as possible; joint meetings of teaching staff AND support staff should become the norm. Support staff may be on strike in the autumn; we need to develop solidarity between all staff and get student support.
- People need to rely less on union reps and borough officials. At the moment, people still seem to look to them for ‘leadership’ rather than taking control themselves. The whole idea of the union ‘calling out its members’ as if we are obedient sheep needs to be transformed into a situation in which workers on the ground are making these decisions for themselves.
- Education workers need to be more pro-active in gaining support within the community. The movement needs to be generalised.
Role of the anarchist movement
Though there are some anarchists in the workplaces themselves, most anarchists are supporting the struggle from ‘outside’. However, the key point we need to be making is we are not ‘outside’ but people who are very much affected by these issues and therefore the struggle of the public sector workers is everyone’s fight. The unions are highly unlikely to build a genuine mass movement against the cuts. They have their own narrow interests and in the long run their leaderships will sabotage any struggle. Anarchists have a clear role to play both within and outside of unions to help build a strong, effective movement of resistance. We need to start doing this now. Ideas include:
- Arguing for links to be made between community anti-cuts groups and the public sector workers. There shouldn’t be a separation between the workers and the ‘users’; they should come together in the same campaign.
- A campaign of propaganda must be launched that keeps the momentum going and begins to build support now for the actions that will most likely be coming in the future. Anarchists have the ideas and analysis to help the struggle succeed and we must share these ideas with others through leaflets, posters and stickers, stalls and rallies.
- Given the strength of the anarchist movement amongst students and young people, anarchists can contribute to the building of links between students and the staff at schools, colleges and universities.
There are so many things anarchists can be doing.
1.We need to embed ourselves where possible in workplace organisation working along the guidelines suggested above.
2. We need to work against the cuts in the neighbourhoods and boroughs, where possible within existing anti-cuts groups. Too often, these groups are extremely small or behave in a tokenistic way. Anarchists should, where possible, attempt to open these groups up and to move them beyond narrow groupings of union militants to groups encompassing pensioners, students (whether in school, FE colleges or universities) tenants groups and others in the neighbourhoods. They need to be enlarged and to take part in actions that lead to small local victories, for example forcing the local council to retreat on the closure of a library, youth centre or community centre.
A lot of this work could be seen as boring in comparison to the “spectacular” actions of, say, March 26th. But it needs to be done and anarchists have to seriously involve themselves in every day work in the workplace and neighbourhood. In some areas this is taking place already, but much more needs to be done.
3. Some very good anarchist propaganda has been produced and distributed on a fairly large scale in the recent few months. However this needs to be intensified in the coming period, in order to counter the extensive lies and misinformation coming from the mainstream media, lies and misinformation intended to divide and demoralise the working class.
Anarchist Federation teacher
- Anarchist Federation/Solidarity Federation Anti-cuts forum Tues 27th Sept, Freedom bookshop
- Anarchist Federation (London) weekly meetings: thursdays, Freedom bookshop