Dozens of schools and many public sector offices including job centres across the East London Lines boroughs were closed or severely disrupted today as thousands of teachers and civil servants go on strike in a dispute with the Government over pensions.
Many strikers from the east and south London areas joined a national protest march in central London this morning which will be followed by a rally in Westminster Central Hall.
Councils throughout the area urged parents and children to check with schools and colleges to see if they are open or whether any teaching has been cancelled, but many were told in advance their establishments would be shut.
Those striking are members of the teaching unions – the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union(UCU). They were joined by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) which has around 250,000 members.
In Lewisham, the strike closed many of the boroughs’ schools. Martin Powell-Davies, secretary of the Lewisham branch of the NUT, said last week: ”We can’t expect teachers or anybody to end up having to take a pay cut and to pay more for their pensions.”
Caroline Kelly, who teaches English and Philosophy at Prendergast Sixth Form in Brockley said: “Normally I do not think striking is the right course of action, but this is something that will affect the quality of education.This is serious enough to affect intake for teaching positions.”
Alice Cawley, 17,who is studying her A-Levels at the same school as Ms.Kelly believes the strikes are necessary. She said: “The government is making too many changes too quickly, so I think it’s good for them to strike. It’s good that people have the freedom to stand up against what they think is wrong, because in some countries they can’t.”
Lewisham NUT branch said support for the strike was ‘overwhelming’ – a full list of affected schools is here http://local.teachers.org.uk/lewisham/ Lewisham College was also affected and here are pictures taken on the picket line this morning by Socialist Worker journalist Sian Ruddick: http://yfrog.com/klvblzj and http://yfrog.com/gyo27ajj
Lecturers at Goldsmiths, University of London are not involved in the dispute although they have struck in the past over pensions and most students have already finished for the summer.
Lewisham council claimed most of its services were as normal but job centres at Catford and Forest Hill are among many around the area disrupted.
Mark Jobling, Head of Year 11 at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in Lewisham said: “‘I think the cuts are unfair for individuals and are damaging for the profession as they put off graduates to go into teaching. I will join with my colleagues and we will march together.”
Hundreds of civil servants who work at Government offices in Croydon, which include the headquarters of the Immigration service and the Land Registry also backed the strike. The Government allowed civil servants with children at strike-hit schools to bring their children with them to work. Conservative controlled Croydon council urged head teachers to do’ all they can’ to stay open.
Ronny H Ospina Orozco, 18, who lives in Croydon and is studying Music at A-Level believes the strikes are unfair. He said: “This strike is really awkward. I do not understand why they have decide to strike in the middle of our exams. They’re not even thinking about us and our education- how selfish.”
In Tower Hamlets, job centres, schools and Tower Hamlets College were all hit.
Alison Lord, who teaches English at Tower Hamlet’s College said: “My own opinion is that the attack on my pension is an attack on my profession and the service I can provide in communities such as Tower Hamlets. Our pay is low relative to what we do: we work in FE because we are committed to second chance education.
Lord added: “The money is there to fund these services, it is just that this Tory government are protecting the rich and their own priorities.”
All secondary schools in Tower Hamlets were due to close with an estimated 95 per cent of NUT members backing the strike. The NUT secretary for east London, Alex Kenny, told the East London Advertiser earlier this week: “Our reports suggest that 90 per cent of schools will be closed, making this the best-supported strike for many years. This reflects the level of concern amongst hard working teachers. We have 2,000 members in Tower Hamlets and the vast majority of them will be on strike.”
One unamed teacher at Central Foundation Girls’ School in Tower Hamlets said: “I hope that parents and the wider community can find it in their hearts to support us at this time, even though it is likely to cause them some disruption. Why is Michael Grove asking parents to go in to classrooms during the teacher’s strike? Whatever happened to CRB checks? Will these parents suddenly learn the medical, social, emotional and psychological history and needs of every student s (he) will have to deal with?”
Meha Sachania, 17 an A-Level student at Loxford School of science and technology in Ilford said: “It is ruining future prospects for those who contribute highly to academic potential in the next 10-20 years. Why should teachers face pension cuts when their passion is to help students, particularly those who are state-educated and considerably deprived of financial support, to shape Britain’s future?”
The majority of schools in Hackney closed, including BSIX Sixth Form College, City of London Academy, Cardinal Pole and Haggerston. A full list is here:http://local.teachers.org.uk/hackney/Campaigns/PensiosnJune2011.cfm
In a leaflet to be issued to parents, Hackney NUT branch said: ‘’We are not taking strike action because we are greedy. We work in the public sector because we believe in decent public services for everyone and taking strike action is never an easy decision. We are committed to educating your children, and don’t believe that they should be taught by teachers who may have run out of the energy to work full time in the classroom. ‘’
Paul Yarrow, a music teacher at BSIX said: “The NUT strike is in response to the non-negotiation and lack of information provided by the government about the teachers pension. It’s really about getting our voice heard. Even thought the teachers are going on strike, the college will still be open to those that want to continue and finish there work before the end of term.”
Mica Baker, 17, who is studying for her A-Levels at City and Islington College said: “Part of me thinks its fine because I get the day off of college and I get to finish the year today, but another part of me thinks its selfish to deprive children of their education because they ‘re not happy with their pay.”
The strike, expected to be supported by up to 600,000 public sector workers around the country is in protest at planned changes in pensions which unions claim will mean then working longer and paying more.
Additional reporting: Barsha Gurung, Myozen Ingram-Peters, Taslima Begum, Radhika Seth, Tevin Robinson, Camille Dawson and Penniana Permal.