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When Child Care Workers Fought Back: A History to be Proud of, Lessons to be Learned, and a Tribute to International Women’s Day

February 16, 2013

In the first decade of the 20th Century, agitation by women in the industrial parts of the world for their civil rights and for their rights as workers was gaining momentum.  Inspired by this increased militancy– and by the organizing in 1909 of National Woman’s Day by the Woman’s National Committee  of the Socialist Party of America– the Women’s Congress of the Second International, meeting in Copenhagen in 1910, approved the call by German Socialist Clara Zetkin and other delegates to create a Women’s Day to foster international solidarity among socialist women.


In contrast to the liberal movements for woman’s suffrage and workers’ rights, and in opposition to war and social injustice, International Women’s Day would be firmly placed in the context of the global capitalist system, one that basically refuses to recognize, let alone heed, the needs and rights of women.


In the last decade of the 20th Century, another reawakening, also focusing on workers’ rights in the context of the range of women’s roles in society, was occurring in the United States.  For the better part of the 1990’s,  hundreds of child care workers, including myself, took part in a grassroots  project called the Worthy Wage Campaign.  Through fact-finding, consciousness raising,  marches, rallies, street festivals, letter-writing, and media contact– and under the banner of ‘Rights, Raises, and Respect’–  we confronted what was called the staffing crisis, and were determined to reverse it.  Of immediate concern was the revolving door of miserably-paid child care workers and the effect this had on children and families.


As this phenomenon started getting sorted out through data from centers and interviews with workers, certain facts became clear.   First and foremost was that our low wages and lack of benefits and good working conditions were subsidizing the cost of child care, either to ‘ease the burden’ on parents if there were fees to pay, or on government whose spending priorities invariably put human services such as child care at the bottom of the list.


As we got deeper into our understanding of the various crises in child care many of us started to understand their systemic nature and the ways workers, families, and community members were getting manipulated and pitted against each other.  We would see that this was serving to derail us from taking the kind of collective action that would really challenge and transform capitalism, the root cause of the crises that riddled the care and education sectors.


To find allies, some of us Worthy Wage campaigners worked hard to get the rights of  child care workers, families, and children on the agenda of human rights, social justice, and radical labour groups.  At the same time, those of us affiliated with the IWW, socialist organisations, and/or women’s rights/liberation projects did the reverse: i.e., encouraged child care workers to get involved with the broader movement for social change, since our issues were so often the same. I had what I considered the extra advantage of being a socialist feminist in an overwhelmingly-female workforce.  This helped me see my experiences as a child care worker from both a class and a gender perspective.  Others, also, came to appreciate the fact that patriarchy and misogyny had a lot to do with our low pay, low status, and tendency to undervalue ourselves.


Unfortunately, liberal politics won out, and by 2002, the Worthy Wage Campaign was now headquartered in Washington, D.C., renamed the Center for the Child Care Workforce, and officially a project of the mainstream American Federation of Teachers Educational Fund.  Empowerment for radical change of the relationship between workers, families, and communities– based on full government funding for good wages and benefits, low child-staff ratios, high quality facilities, support services, and free tuition– had become a vague reference to a “well-educated” workforce, receiving “better compensation, and a “voice” in their workplace.


Meanwhile, in Scotland, the public sector nursery nurses, members of Unison, were getting fed up with government stone-walling on their own child care crisis.   The ruse of so-called professionalism that had undermined the militancy of the Worthy Wage Campaign was playing itself  out in Scotland  in the form of expanded  job descriptions but no pay increases for the added responsibilities.  In fact, there had been no salary review since 1988 in any of the Scottish councils in charge of overseeing the nurseries.


By the end of 2003, between 4,000 and 5,000 nursery nurses, disgusted by the intransigence of both the councils and COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) had voted for strike action that led to a series of regional one- or two-day strikes, accompanied by rallies and demonstrations.  And by March 1st, 2004, the nursery nurses were ready to engage in an all-out, indefinite, strike for a national settlement on pay raises in line with their current job requirements and the importance of their work.


Unfortunately, but predictably, the standard business-union tactics of Unison not only failed to sufficiently support solidarity among the nursery nurses but failed to foster links between the nursery nurses and workers in other sectors, and between the nurses and their centers’ families and communities when more picket support and public outcry might well have changed the strike’s outcome.


Instead, the rallying cry for a national settlement– basic to the goal of equal pay for equal work, and so vital to enabling the nursery nurses to maintain their resolve– was dropped by Unison based on a pledge of a national review of pay and working conditions at some point in the future.  This led to significant discrepancies between the pay settlements negotiated between the union and individual councils and, undoubtedly, to demoralization among the workers when the 12-week strike ended.


Fast forward to London at the end of January 2013, when early years minister, Elizabeth Truss,  proposed changes to child-staff ratios in child care centers in England, as well as the expansion of  education requirements for the workers.  In child care and other human service sectors this strategy usually works particularly well because it employs the mythology of success throuogh individual effort and perseverance, and platitudes about the importance of our work,  while exploiting the workers’ collective dedication and compassion.  At the same time, it promises families and tax payers that with one stroke of administrative genius, child care (or whatever) will be ‘cost-effective’ and thus less burdensome.


This is a sham, and workers, families, and community activists need to say so via direct and coordinated actions.  Child care workers and supporters must hammer away at the fact that wages, benefits, staffing ratios,  appreciation of our efforts, and recognition and support of our skills and interests are prime determinants of quality child care– and none of these factors should or need to get ignored.


For those of us who participated in the Worthy Wage Campaign in the U.S. or the nursery nurses strike in Scotland, the ridiculous atomizing of quality child care that Truss’s proposal represents is an all-too-familiar tactic for diverting attention from those responsible for the wholly inadequate public funding of social services by cleverly focusing attention on the blameless.


Liz Truss and her ilk need to be told that we won’t stand for their continual trade-off schemes, such as further education and training as a pre-condition for good wages and working conditions.  By this time, we should know that quality care and quality jobs cannot be an either/or proposition.  Ways must be found to enable them to occur simultaneously, and with the rights, needs, and final say of the staff at the core of this planning.


By turning the spotlight, and turning up the heat, on purposely convoluted pseudo-solutions to serious social problems, and on the rapid erosion of the public sector leading to the withering of social services, we will surely advance the struggle for the global unity of the working class.


Furthermore, by remembering the courage and commitment of such women workers as the Worthy Wage campaigners in the U.S. and the striking nursery nurses in Scotland– acting on behalf of their rights and those of all women and all workers– we honor the founders, and perpetuate the meaning, of International Women’s Day in the best way possible.

IWW Education Workers help block 8 Academies in Birmingham

September 5, 2012
IWW Education Workers were recently at the forefront of raising awareness about issues surrounding the wiping out of budget deficits of newly-converted academies. These issues have led to the City Council’s decision to put the creation of 8 academies on hold. If the original plans had been allowed to stand, £1.3 million of taxpayers’ money, which was owed to the council by the schools, would have been written off with the new academies starting with a financial clean slate. This would have meant the people of Birmingham subsidising schools which are no longer accountable to the local community and which are often run by private organisations which have little, if any, stake in the areas in which their schools are based.
One related issue which has not been raised so far concerns redundancies in schools about to become academies. At least one of the 8 proposed academies has made redundancies before conversion in order to pay off its current deficit over a number of years and achieve a balanced budget. When a local authority school, this money would have been paid back to the Council but, once a school becomes an academy ‘independent’ of local authority control, this would no longer be the case. Thus, you could have the situation where not only money which is owed to the Council is lost, but also council taxpayers pay for the costs of redundancies. This would then allow new academies to run a budget surplus in their first year without having to do anything; a massive transfer of money from public to private hands. It is a scandal if these redundancies have been rushed through before conversion so that the financial burden falls on the local taxpayer, rather than the new academy.

Quebec solidarity statement

August 20, 2012

The recent meeting of IWW Education Workers (Britain and Ireland) adopted the following solidarity statement:

 Solidarity to all students and education workers in Quebec involved in the struggle against tuition fees from the IWW (UK section) Education Workers Network. Your actions have been an inspiration to education workers and students around the world fighting against the attempt by governments to make students pay for the latest capitalist crisis. You can win, we will continue to spread information and build support in the UK for your actions.

Follow info on the struggle here

Academy chains

July 19, 2012

A brief outline for IWW Education Workers activists and organisers in schools.

What is an academy chain?

Academy chains are a partnership of a group or collection of school academies. These academies can vary in size and composition and some have a formal and some adopt  less formal structures.

These chains are shown by three main models.

  • ‘Multi Academy Trust model’. These are academies that are linked by one legal identity governed by one trust and board of directors.
  • ‘Umbrella Trust model’. These are a group of academy trusts that set up an individual trust to provide collaboration and a shared governance.
  • An informal collaborative partnership that has no formal governance. These academies just agree to work together.

Academies are joined by a chain system in order to give them more influence and power to the governing bodies that control them. They claim that best practice can be shared and the economies of these academies can be more efficient.

The chain’s governing body will control the staffing and the control of the curriculum. The chain also controls the procurement of services for the schools that they are responsible for. These can range from supply cover, behaviour and special needs services, Human Resources (HR), ICT, payroll, legal and insurance services. Some chains will buy in services from the local authority or private services. Chains may even set up their own services to provide cleaning and other janitorial staff such as caretakers.

Working with chains

Many unions are opposed to school academies and the IWW, an industrial union is no exception to opposing academies. One of the main concerns are the pay and conditions issues that these academies can pose for their staff. Many national agreements are largely honoured by these academies but they may include additional contracts to staff especially new ones which in effect could mean that staff may have to work for longer hours or that the nature of the job of work has changed so much that in effect staff are doing additional work without extra pay and doing this work may be difficult to implement.

Another major concern is that the financial package that the school gets could be less rather than more each year. If the academy is part of a chain that runs this school the money and other resources could be even less. If the situation becomes national as in the case of two nationally run group of academies even less might occur. In the current economic climate it is unlikely that funding for academies will increase.

A chain of academies cannot override local agreements with the staff that has already been negotiated with the trade unions that represent the workforce in schools. These agreements are recognised locally and on a wider basis. TUPE and other packages that have been agreed are also safe but it does not mean that in the future that these could be renegotiated and therefore it might be likely that the school staff may get a worse deal in their employment working an academy school.

Some IWW workers in schools are also members of trade unions so they are advised that if a school wants to become an academy or wants to join a chain of academies it would be worth pushing for protest with other unions that represent school staff.

Opposing schools in joining chains would help break some power in these academies also.


Useful links:

Department for Education – information on open academies and academies in development

Academy chains FAQs

Edubase: database of schools in England

Academies called to account – UNISON report

Teacher Unity

July 14, 2012

A Fellow Worker responds to the announcement by NUT and NASUWT that they intend to work together to defend teachers and education.

The decision of NUT and NASUWT leaders to work together in fighting the cutbacks is certainly to be welcomed, but by no means does this decision bring us significantly closer to the type of militant movement of teachers we so desperately need. InScotland, the EIS functions as the dominant union in the school system, outside of the universities and colleges, and yet the same policy of vacillation and accommodation has characterized the union’s response to the austerity agenda.

The reality that confronts us is that union leaders across the board are unwilling to challenge the government, eitherWestminsteror Holyrood. The rhetoric may vary, but the policy remains the same: Hope for the best and fund the Labour Party.

We in the IWW need to develop an alternative strategy. We need to promote a unity at the grassroots level, where militant teachers come together to discuss common problems and formulate a strategy that can be pursued across organizational boundaries. We need to help to organize militant actions that counter the cutbacks and present a positive alternative, and we need to carry out these actions with or without the approval of the union bureaucrats.

The old Broad Left emphasized the creation of broad coalitions that could elect ”left-wing” union officials to national office. In some unions, this effort succeeded, and yet fundamentally little has changed. Our strategy has to be very different. By creating a strong base of activists at the school level, and then connecting these activists across official union structures, we can establish a strong network working toward radical change. The construction workers have begun to do this. We can learn from their example.

IWW Education Workers welcome NASUWT-NUT joint declaration

July 3, 2012

On 28 May the 2 biggest teachers union in the UK – NASUWT and NUT issued the following joint declaration. The IWW welcomes all attempts to overcome divisions between workers and the various trade unions into which they are split, and therefore welcomes this declaration as a positive step.

“NASUWT & NUT – Joint declaration of intent

Given the unprecedented and sustained attack by the Government on the teaching profession and the consequent damage to the education service, the two largest teachers’ unions, the NASUWT and NUT have agreed to act together in defence of teachers and of education.

This historic agreement arises from the serious concerns that members of both of our unions have about the way the present Government is undermining the education system. This agreement between two unions, that between them represent more than 85% of all teachers in England and Wales, should give the Government pause for thought.

Our members’ key concerns are about the attacks on their working conditions, workload, pensions, pay and jobs. Teachers’ conditions of service are inextricably linked to the provision of high quality education for all. Our two unions intend to mount an unprecedented joint campaign on these issues. In particular, we will challenge:
* unacceptable and excessive workload pressures which are damaging to teachers’ health and wellbeing, undermining teaching and learning and threatening educational standards;
* the failure of the Government to carry out the valuation of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, the imposition of unfair contribution increases and changes to make teachers work to 68 or higher to get a full pension;
* the Government’s proposals for local pay and performance related pay and the continuation of the pay freeze for teachers;
* the attack on teachers’ jobs and national terms and conditions of service, including those arising from the privatisation and academisation of schools;
* threats to jobs arising from funding cuts and education and curriculum reforms.

We believe the threat to the profession and the education service is now so severe that jointly coordinated action is essential.
We are writing to the Secretary of State for Education and, as appropriate, the Minister for Education in Wales, to seek urgent discussions about these issues which threaten teacher morale and the whole education system. We urge them to make the best use of the time available before the start of the next school year to reach agreement with us.

Our campaign will involve working jointly on political lobbying, public campaigns, research and negotiation, together with a jointly coordinated programme of industrial action, including action short of strike action and strike action.

Should the Government refuse to take the current opportunity to negotiate sensible arrangements which protect teachers and defend education, then it is our intention to move to escalate industrial action, including jointly coordinated strike action and action short of strike action in the autumn.”

Jobs saved at Birmingham Connexions

February 22, 2012

The below is from the UNISON website, and details a campaign in which an IWW dual carder was prominent in the stewards group. This was useful in terms of gaining a campaigning edge from the outset.

(16/02/12) Birmingham UNISON is celebrating after seeing off the threat of redundancy to more than 100 Connexions staff in the city.

After a long and hard-fought campaign, the branch was told this week that the threat of compulsory redundancies for Birmingham Connexions staff had been withdrawn. Employers would not be going through the redundancy selection process which was due to start at the end of February.

A staff notice from the acting lead officer for Connexions stated: “No further redundancies from our service are required at this stage”.

Some 105 out of 172 full-time equivalent posts had been under threat, but the council is now looking to make savings through alternative means, including voluntary severances and redeployments.

“There will still be terrible service cuts,” commented joint UNISON branch secretary Graeme Horn after the announcement. “And the service will be a targetted one, not a universal one anymore.

“We continue to oppose these cuts in service and the drastic impact these will have on a generation of young people in the city, who are facing the worst conditions in living memory when attempting to enter the jobs market.

“But without the opposition of our stewards committee in Connexions, the Connexions staff themselves, our campaigning allies in Birmingham Against The Cuts and all those who have supported the Save Connexions campaign, the cuts would have been far, far, worse,” he added.

“This is a victory for those who have been prepared to take industrial action, to take round petitions, to hand out leaflets to the public, to lobby their councillors, to march on the Council House, to speak at meetings throughout the city, to give endless interviews to the media and, above all, to never give up.”

Education unions resist (so far) government attempts to snuff out pensions dispute

December 20, 2011

There has been much anger already voiced about what appears to be an impending sell-out by Brendan Barber and Dave Prentis, acting in cahoots with the Con-Dem coalition. Opposition amongst rank-and-file trade unionists includes various petitions (including here and here) and a lobby of the TUC ahead of its discussions with the government.

With the announcement by the government that it has reached a ‘heads of agreement’ deal with many of the trade unions, it is gratifying to see that (for now at least) the education trade unions are showing a united front in refusing the sign up to the deal.

Commenting on the latest round of Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) talks, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Following extensive talks with government officials UCU, together with the NUT, UCAC, and NASUWT, has decided to reserve its position on the proposed agreement. We have requested further documentation and clarification on a number of aspects of the proposals. Once we are in receipt of full information on the offer and how it will affect our diverse membership our national executive committee will consider the proposals. Following this, UCU is then committed to balloting our members in the TPS scheme on whether to accept or reject any final offer. ”

Highlighting how the government clearly sought to bounce unions into agreeing to its proposal, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said, ‘the DfE has been unable to provide key documentation requested by negotiators and which is central to securing a proper resolution. The Coalition Government has still not provided any information on the need for reform to the TPS and today’s statement confirms that teachers will be expected to pay more, receive less and work longer for their pensions. All of the available evidence confirms that the TPS is fair, affordable and sustainable. We were also concerned that the DfE refused to table its first offer until Thursday 15 December. Within hours, the coalition government withdrew the offer and a further proposal did not emerge until late on Monday 19 December. Teachers would expect their negotiators to insist on a detailed examination of the implications of the DfE’s proposals and to exercise due diligence. In the timescale imposed by the government, this simply was not possible.’

Commenting on the latest round of Teachers’ Pension Scheme talks, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said, “Following lengthy discussions today the NUT was not able to sign up to the Government’s headline proposals. There was insufficient progress in terms of the Government’s position that teachers should work longer, pay more and get less. In the NUT we reserved our position due to lack of progress but also the lack of documentation in certain critical areas.’

Of course it’s good to see the education unions working together for once. A coordinated response from across the education sector will always be the most powerful one – provided of course that the union bureaucrats can be prevented from coordinating a sell-out of their members’ interests…

November 30 industrial action

December 2, 2011

On November 30 up to 3 million public sector workers went on strike –  in defence of their pensions, which are coming under attack from a government intent on enforcing spending cuts despite no evidence whatsoever that these cuts are having the apparently intended effect of reducing government debt – but also as a wider mobilisation of trade unionists who are increasingly angry about the government agenda and the attempt to impose the economic costs of a global recession, caused by corporate greed, onto workers who have no responsibility for causing the crisis.

Most of the education unions were on strike – NUT, NASUWT, NAHT, UCU, and many members of Unison and Unite who work in schools and other education institutions. Most IWW Education Workers are also trade union activists within one of these unions, and many were actively involved in organising industrial action that took place on November 30.

IWW/UCU members picketing from 8.15

Wobblies joining students and other local activists for a tour of pickets throughout the city centre starting at 7.15 at Sheffield Hallam University

IWW block on Devonshire Green feeder march from 11am

Students staged an occupation in the University of Sheffield Arts Tower building, with IWW Education Workers supporting

Ruskin College

UCU supporting picket at Oxford Uni 8.30am, then touring picket lines in city. Having a presence outside of Ruskin to build for the demo at 1.30.
3 feeder marches to main demo, congregating at 2pm, marching to city centre, then rally with speakers

Glasgow IWW were up and about! Unison – not balloted and not officially striking at the University (different pension scheme – talk about ‘divide and rule’!), but dual-card IWWs will be supporting the UCU. Feeder march with students and UCU planned to meet up with the rest in town.


A rally in Falkirk was chaired by an IWW Education Worker for the Trades Council. The turnout was 4 times that expected (nearly 300 people) requiring the meeting to overspill into a larger room. Lots of prison officers, physiotherapists and teachers (EIS). Mood was pretty militant.


In Nottingham, IWW members, at least 6 from the branch, went on the main city march after picket lines had finished (around 10am). We are in disparate mainstream unions, two of us in UCU. The picket lines that IWW Education Workers were on were at University of Nottingham and South Notts College. The march had at least 10000 people on it (one of our fellow workers was doing a proper count) – this is the largest demo in Nottingham in my memory. The UCU picket lines were supported by Notts Uncut who brought sandwiches for the strikers all the way out to the University of Nottingham campus at the several entrances.  These supporters included students and people active in Notts Save Our Services. People who are involved in the the ongoing Nottingham Occupation also supported city centre picket lines – mainly PCS ones. There was a good anarchist contingent on the march with red and black flags and the Nottingham AF banner. People generally dispersed after the march as the rally point was a bit out of the way (organised by East Midlands TUC at a hall which had limited ticketed entry for trade union members) and there was not a lot of room to meet outside. Quite a bit of the disperal was to local pubs.

West Midlands

Swanshurst School had about 20 out on the picket from 4 unions-NASUWT,
UNISON, NUT and GMB. We picketed both front and back gates from 7.30 to
9.45. Chris Keates (NASUWT National Sec) showed up. ITV had a small
piece on it nationally and the Birmingham Mail also produced this for
the website:

Photos form the picket can be found here:

The main TUC march in town was well attended (TUC said 15,000 but ITV
said 30,000). About 20+ West Mids IWW members/supporters were out and we had
the guillotine with Cameron and Clegg with us for the duration. This
went down well with all the marchers and it must be said our
megaphone/chanting was the business. Outside the rally we held our mock
execution to the applause of the ground:


At the University of Birmingham, there was a noticeable presence on all the picket lines, and much lower student presence within the campus than usual. IWW Education Workers – based in UCU, Unison and the NUS – were present on the picket lines as either supporters or strikers.

Unfortunately the University security team, overseen by the Head of Security and accompanied by the Director of HR, Director of External Relations and Director of Hospitality, sought to obstruct picketing on the East Gate. Despite attempts by UCU officials to inform the University managment of their legal right to discuss the industrial action with those entering the University, the security staff sought to hold back picketers from incoming traffic, waving incoming traffic through the barriers. This caused many vehicles to accelerate as they entered the group of picketers, creating what we viewed to be a serious risk for picketers. Fortunately this policy was dropped after a prolonged discussion with the Head of Security over our legal right to picket.

This aside, the presence of such senior management at the picket lines is a clear sign that the industrial action on Wednesday rattled the University managers.

The branch also hosted a teach-out which was very successful, with around 10 speakers covering topics such as the comparisons between Soviet rule and British Universities, the insecurities that explain the dwindling right to protest, medieval uprisings, and the shallowness of the University’s ‘student experience’ concept, and with around 100 people in the audience.

At the University of Wolverhampton, IWW Education Workers took part in UCU industrial action. Strikers received visits from their Vice-Chancellor, two Deputy Vice-Chancellors, and senior executives at the City and Walsall campuses – who graciously offered hot beverages and wished them well. The strike was noticeably solid, with very few academics and support staff crossing the picket lines, and the subsequent rally and short march through Wolverhampton was large, loud and determined, with all the public sector unions and some of their students joining them.

Academies increase the pay divide

November 14, 2011

In case anyone was left wondering what the incentive was for supposed ‘charities’ seeking to take over and run our schools, the answer appears to be becoming increasingly clear. The government’s Academies scheme, which allows state-funded schools to opt out of local government control, and then sell themselves to a private sponsor that then gets automatic control of the school’s governing body, has been in the headlines recently for the high pay of those running the ‘charities’ that take over the schools. At the same time, academies are sacking teachers, presumably to help pay for the inflated salaries at the top.

As the Guardian reports, ‘Charities that run chains of academy schools are using public funds to pay senior staff six-figure salaries, with some on £240,000 or more.’ This includes an annual reward package of £280,ooo for Bruce Liddington, director general of E-Act, which runs 14 schools. Also, 3 members of senior management at Ark Schools earned c. £145,000 – apparently explaining their hyper-enthusiasm for converting other state-funded schools into Ark Schools.

It would also appear that one of the main ways in which these inflated salaries are afforded is through dismissals at the lower end of the payscale. 13 teachers have been told they are to be sacked at Mediacity academy in Manchester – although fortunately they seem to be putting up a fight, with NUT members voting to go on strike in response.

More details here on the Anti-Academies Alliance.