Over 90% of National Education Union Members who were balloted voted for a series of six days of strikes which start today (1st February 2023) and go on approximately every two weeks until the 15th of March.
The main reason teachers are striking is over poor pay and long working hours, which are the main reasons why teachers are leaving the profession.
Teachers have had a real terms pay cut of 20% since 2010 because their annual pay increases haven’t kept pace with inflation and this year the government has only offered a 5% pay increase when inflation is running at 12%, meaning a 7% real terms pay cut.
And the government is currently residing over a recruitment crisis in teaching. There simply aren’t enough people who want to train to be teachers under the current pay and working conditions.
Understaffed schools mean that the teachers who are working have to soak up the difference, mainly by taking on larger class sizes which contributes to their intense work loads.
Overworked teachers and higher teacher to pupil staff ratios ultimately mean children suffer a poorer quality of education. Teachers are not superhuman after all and they can only do so much, hence the strikes.
It must be remembered, despite the rhetoric of the ultra-wealthy, tax-dodging, massive national-debt creating (Liz Truss) and morally bankrupt Tory party that teachers do not want to strike, they are doing so as a last resort because of Tory failure to manage the economy competently so that there is sufficient money to pay public sector workers a wage which reflects the work they do serving the public.
Relevance to A-level Sociology
The fact that it’s not just teachers striking, but also many other public sector workers demonstrates the harms that 40 years of neoliberal policy have done to the UK economy. There isn’t enough money being raised by taxes to pay decent wages for those working in the health and education sectors.
Striking is a good example of collective mass action, the final resort that the working classes have to demand fairer pay and conditions, and if you want to you can show solidarity with ordinary hard working public sector workers by attending one of the local rallies on one of the strike days.
1.3 million workers are making just demands for better pay and conditions, but the neoliberal government is against them
Over one million workers across numerous sectors are going on Strike from December 2022 and into 2023.
Their main demands of the strikers are for better working conditions to make public services better and safer for everyone who uses them, and also for fairer pay to enable them to afford their basic human needs.
Who is going on strike?
There are workers going on strike from several unions in December 2022- January 2023
The Teacher’s union
The nurses union
Boarder Force/ Driving InstructorS
Is this a general strike?
No. A general strike is when industrial action is co-ordinated across several unions in solidarity. At the moment, while many individual unions are striking they are no co-ordinating these strikes.
Why are workers going on strike…?
The main reason for striking is that ordinary hard working public sector workers want to receive fair pay for the services they provide, and by ‘fair’ we mean a wage that is at least sufficient to pay for housing, food, utilities, transport and other basic needs rather than nurses having to go into debt and/ or rely on food banks to survive.
Real term pay has decreased by 20% since 2010 because of a decade of below inflation public sector pay rises as part of the Tory’s ongoing austerity policies.
But these strikes aren’t just about wages for the workers, they are also about working conditions and the wages being sufficient to attract enough workers to fill vacancies so that current workers aren’t overstretched. For example there are currently 47 000 unfilled nursing roles in the NHS – the pay isn’t enough to attract people into those roles, but current workers have to do overtime to cover those roles or just ‘work harder’.
The RCN says thousands of “burned out, underpaid nursing staff” have left the profession in the past 12 months.
And the fact that organisations like the NHS are understaffed means working conditions aren’t safe, THAT’s a pretty decent to strike for better conditions – these people actually care about the quality of work they provide and they can’t provide quality if they are stretched beyond capacity due to the wages being so low one in six vacancies are empty!
The longer term context of these strikes is twelve years of austerity politics from the Tories – most public sector workers have suffered a real terms pay cut (when factoring in inflation) of 20% since 2010, meaning they are a lot poorer now than they were twelve years ago. So basically, blame the Tories.
Public sector pay hans’t kept pace with private sector pay, so fairness is also about helping public sector workers catch up
Think about the kind of of people who are striking here too – nurses and teachers – these people go into a vocation, many of them dedicate their lives to it and they genuinely want to make YOUR LIFE and your children’s lives better – just pay them!
Then of course there is the Pandemic – it wasn’t so long ago that especially nurses, but also teachers were in the front-line of keeping the country going during Lockdowns, with nurses exposing themselves to Covid-19, some literally dying or seeing colleagues die as a result and now we can’t even give them a pay-rise in line with inflation.
How many people support the strikes?
It depends on who is striking.
60% of the public would support nurses striking, and a majority supports fire fighters, supermarket workers and doctors, with 50% supporting teachers.
However, people are very much against barristers, civil servants, university staff and train drivers going on strike!
So there may not be enough money but that’s because a combination of sheer incompetence and choosing to fund pensions over workers.
Media bias against strike action
If you can be bothered to wait for the advertising-slowed sluggish right-wing biased fest that is the Daily Mail online to load up you will immediately see the usual anti-social justice vitriol against the strikes.
Besides referring to Mick Lynch as ‘Grinch Lynch’ the other dead giveaway is immediately focussing on how the strikes will inconvenience you – clearly to the Daily Mail it’s more important that wealthy people get their Christmas cards delivered on time rather than the ordinary hardworking mail workers who deliver them receive decent pay and conditions for their service.
Applying Sociology to the strikes
This strike action is a fantastic example of how four decades of neoliberal economic policy have failed ordinary hard working people. If policy had been more about reinvesting back into public services, part of which would have meant pay rises in line with inflation, these socially just strikes would not be necessary.
The government’s reaction in not agreeing to the 1.3 million strikers’ totally reasonable requests also reminds us of the continued relevance of Marxism – with a political elite who recently tanked the economy with their fickle min-budget now refusing to enact a social policy which benefits ordinary hard working people.