Vestas Blades UK on the Isle of Wight is due to close on 31st July. 600 jobs will be lost immediately, many more jobs that depend on Vestas will follow. This makes no sense from a green or a labour perspective!

The government has just announced a major expansion of renewable energy including wind power. We are calling on Vestas to keep the factories open, saving jobs and offering those who want to leave a better redundancy deal. We are calling on the government to intervene to save jobs at Vestas – through nationalisation if that is what it takes – to show that it is serious about saving the planet.

For further formation and to support the workers, please visit: http://savevestas.wordpress.com/


Vestas wind turbine pickets mount 21st century-style protest

Huddled around a smoking brazier early today , the fluorescent-vested union officials looked perfectly at home.

But surrounding them on the traffic island at the far end of Newport’s St Cross industrial estate, on the Isle of Wight, was a scene that looked a little different from the usual picket line. Battered army surplus boots stuck out of the handful of colourful tents, a half-drunk bottle of South African chardonnay lay on the grass, and the gazebo hastily bought from the local B&Q contained the expected tea, coffee and biscuits, but also two cartons of soya milk.

On a grass mound outside the HQ of wind turbine maker Vestas Wind Systems, which is set to shut down with the loss of up to 600 jobs, a new kind of industrial dispute has taken shape. About 25 workers have occupied the plant in an attempt to prevent the closure, scheduled for 31 July, supported by a unique “red and green” coalition.

This is a protest significant not just for the way in which it has seen environmental campaigners, socialist activists and trade unionists join forces, but also for the way in which members of a previously non-unionised workforce in the largely conservative island community have been mobilised in a way they never dreamed of.

Tonight, about 300 people marched from the town centre to the plant for a rally to show their support for the action. Inside, the men, who since their arrival on Monday have been sleeping shifts on office floors, take it in turns to go out on a balcony to wave at supporters or pass the time with a keyboard discovered under a desk. “People have been putting on headphones, playing prerecorded tracks and pretending to be DJs,” said Ian Terry, 23, one of the occupiers.

A game invented to kill time involves throwing and catching balls while seated on increasingly far apart office chairs in the corridor.

Since Thursday morning, Vestas’ management has been providing them with two meals a day, so far centred on cheese sandwiches but the men said they were still hungry. Tobacco has been provided by their workmates outside, who throw tennis balls stuffed with goodies.

Those that land short are scooped up using a pole of joined-together broom handles, with a sticky ball of tape attached.

Spirits are high, according to Terry. “The atmosphere is brilliant,” he said. “I think it’s amazing what people have done. We know there are different groups with different opinions on certain things but they’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and support is just snowballing.”

Outside Sean McDonagh, 32, a team leader at the plant, marvelled at the cultural shift of the last week. “For so long, management kept us down; they’ve broken us and bullied us,” he said. “To move up the ladder you had to do anything the management wanted. If you didn’t want to do that they didn’t want to know. People were too scared to stand up for themselves, because they were worried they’d lose their jobs. It’s good money, and that’s really what the management has worked on.”

All that has changed after the arrival, last month, of a handful of socialist environmental campaigners from the group Workers’ Climate Action.

By night, they camped at a farm near Cowes and by day set about hanging around the gates of Vestas’ two plants at shift-change times, handing out leaflets. Initially, they were met with scepticism, but gradually a small number of workers began to be convinced that action could make a difference.

Last week an occupation committee formed and by Monday evening the men had taken their places inside the plant.

Vestas, the world’s biggest wind turbine maker, claimed tonight that “outsiders” were involved in the occupation of the closure-threatened factory but the real blame lay with “faceless nimbys” who opposed wind schemes in Britain, leading to them having to close the factory.

The Denmark-based company, which will go to court on Wednesday seeking a possession order to stop the occupation, also said that green activists should support the switch of manufacturing from the UK to America which was its main market, explaining that having to send the blades by ship across the Atlantic raised the carbon footprint of Vestas.

Peter Kruse, a spokesman for Vestas at its head office in Copenhagen, said the company had been surprised by the occupation and would do all it could to bring it to a peaceful end. He refused to say whether the company would change its mind but said that even with some government aid it “can’t make ends meet”.

Campaigners rejected the claims that anyone other than Vestas staff were involved in the sit-in and blamed the company for changing its mind, from an expansion of the plant to closure.

But Kruse said the company could not sustain a business at Newport because of the credit crunch, a weakening of the pound and a lack of political action. Later, the Vestas man said he recognised the government was doing “a lot for us”.

Back on the traffic island, Jonathan Neale, of the Campaign Against Climate Change, said the coalition gathered there was like nothing he had ever seen in Britain.

“I grew up in the southern US and I remember when the civil rights movement started. This feels like 1960.”

Rachel Williams, Guardian, Friday 24 July 2009

How workers of Ford in Europe are fighting back

1 July: Luton
2 July: Birmingham
3 July: Oxford
4 July: London

The crisis in the car industry is hitting hard.  

Union leaders have been responsible for negotiating shorter weeks and pay cuts.
But where workers have taken decisive action important victories have been
won. By striking and occupying plants, and the threat of international
solidarity action, Visteon workers blew aside the myth that it was a separate
company.  They won their battle for the same redundancy and pension conditions
as other Ford workers.

In France, Ford workers in Bordeaux are campaigning against closure of the
plant with a consequent loss of 10,000 jobs. After demonstrations, strikes, and
the invasion of the Paris motor show, the plant was taken over by HZ, a German
holding company, with the promise that jobs were safe. Is this a victory or
another management trick? 

	    What strategy do we need to save our jobs? How can we develop shop
floor international organisation? Can the skills and experience of car workers
be used to develop alternative, socially useful jobs in car plants’ to
support public services and fight climate change?

	    Come and join the discussion to learn from the past and the present
and take control of our futures.

Meetings with Ford Bordeaux CGT members

Wednesday 1 July, Luton
6.30pm, The Balti Nights, Wellington Street, Meeting hosted by Luton Trades

Thursday 2 July, Birmingham

7.30pm, in the Council House, Victoria Square . Meeting organized by Birmingham
Trades Council

Friday 3rd July, Oxford

7pm, East Oxford Community Centre, Princes St , off Cowley Road , 

Meeting called by Oxford & District Trades Union Council and sponsored by Unite
Branch 5/625 South East Region

Saturday 4th July, London

2.30pm, Friends House, Euston and with speakers from Visteon and Ford Dagenham,
sponsored by TGWU (Unite) 1/1107 Ford Central Brach


A farcical curtain of steel descended on Calais, and the massive campaign of demonisation of the camp by the local authorities continued in the press. The camp gradually grew to around 1000 people from all over Europe. Many local people visited the site, a group of around 100 mostly Kurdish and Afghani migrants participated at a daily basis and a lot of local kids and young adults hanged out in the Camp.

It run alongside the main motorway from the port out of town and it was just a few minutes from the “Jungle”, the makeshift camps where migrants are living. Migrants report that currently the controls at the border are very tight and that no one has been getting through for few weeks, consequently the number of migrants in Calais are at their highest in several years.

On Sunday 21st of July, people from the camp went to the festival in the town centre of Calais, with a sound system, to give out leaflets that explain the aim and nature of the camp, in an attempt to communicate directly with the locals beyond the media lies. After the prohibition to distribute any kind of literature that was issued the following Monday, giving out leaflets became an action in itself where people got arrested. Issues of the daily produced newspaper “Nomad” were also confiscated.

Assisting the migrants seems to be a criminal offence, which granted an arrest on Wednesday 24th June, but people have been thinking about some paractical ideas you can do this summer to help the hundreds of migrants stranded in Calais.

On Friday 26th morning, a man demanded showers for migrants when he glued himself to the entrance of La Mairie de Calais – one died trying to have one in the dangerous place where they are forced to wash themselves. In the afternoon, the local motorway was blocked to highlight the hypocrisy of allowing freedom of movement for goods and animals but not of people.

On Saturday 27th, the campers left the Camp at 10am to go to the transnational demonstration.

Back in the UK, a demonstration was called in solidariy with the detainees in hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

The mass unrest in the garment industry continued on Monday (29 June) for a third day…

On the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital city, in the industrial zone; workers’ rioting and demonstrations yesterday escalated to new heights. As thousands of workers gathered in the morning, at 10am a group set off towards the nearby Dhaka Export Processing Zone where many garment factories are located. Police blocked their way and fierce fighting began – in the pitched battle police teargas and rubber bullets left 100 workers injured.

Other workers soon joined the protesters and informed them that work was continuing as normal at the Hamim Group factory complex. Twenty thousand workers began to march towards the complex. As the numbers of protesters in the area swelled to 50,000 the security forces were simply overwhelmed; the Dhaka District Superintendent of Police said; “An additional 400 policemen stood guard in front of the major factories. We tried our best to disperse the crowd, but they were too many and too fierce.

There are reports that some workers at the Hamim complex tried to defend the factory and clashed with the demonstrators as they approached (presumably reluctant to sacrifice their workplace to the greater cause – though whether these workers were garment workers or factory security and/or management personnel is unknown). The approaching protesters were said to be angry that these workers had failed to join the weekend protests over the killing of two garment workers shot by cops – and that the factory owners had, unlike other bosses, continued operating since the shootings.

The workers split into smaller groups and stormed the complex at around 10.15am. They sprinkled the buildings with petrol; a sweater factory, three garment factories, two washing factories, two fabric storehouses … over 8,000 machines, a huge quantity of readymade garments, fabrics, three buses, two pickup vans, two microbuses and one motorbike were all reduced to ashes.

The crowd was thinking strategically. Once the buildings were ablaze some workers returned to the highway and blockaded the road; consequently, the fire services were unable to reach the blaze for several hours until 3.30pm – by which time the buildings were burnt to the ground.

Meanwhile, groups drawn from some of the other 50,000 workers and participants (undoubtably other sympathetic non-garment workers and slum dwellers would have been drawn in) roamed the area and attacked and vandalised another 50 factories and 20 vehicles. Thick black smoke could be seen across the city.

Though in public statements the garment bosses have been attempting to maintain international confidence by playing up the continued economic health of the industry it seems that some companies are beginning to feel the pinch of the economic crisis. One report suggests that

The current global meltdown had a background part to play in the whole thing as scores of factories turned sick due to reduced orders.
Low and delayed wage payments following the recession also helped trigger the unrest… Many factory owners had truncated their workforce to be more competitive against their international competitors, industry insiders said.
(Daily Star – 30 June 09)

The factory in Ashulia’s S. Suhi Industrial Park, where the dispute that sparked this unrest began(1), laid off most of its workers and sold to a new owner in February due to a decline in orders from international buyers. Laid off workers had apparently been regularly agitating for re-employment at the unused factory at a higher wage rate;

The closure of the units of S Suhi Industrial Park Ltd was mainly responsible for the latest labour unrest in garment factories in Ashulia and Savar areas, a number of garment workers claimed.
Pretty Group in March started production only with the sweater-manufacturing unit and kept the five other units of the former S Suhi Industrial Park closed. Around 1,000 out-of-work workers of the five units were mounting pressure on the new management to restart those units soon, said garment workers.
The workers of the closed units along with other ill-paid workers of some nearby factories, which are not doing so well, started a movement to reopen the units and raise salary of workers, they said.
Failing to get their jobs back, they started to unite and threaten to halt production in other factories unless the former S Suhi units are reopened, a worker of Ha-Meem Group said requesting anonymity.
(Daily Star – 30 June 09)

But the new owners denied this, none too convincingly;

Manjur Rahman, manager and company secretary of Pretty Group, claimed that this labour unrest had neither anything to do with his factory nor was it triggered from his factory.

In fact, the truth is probably a little more subtle – the Pretty Group dispute was the spark that set off an explosion waiting to happen. The global economic crisis increases already pressured working conditions, decline in real wages/purchasing power due to inflation and actual or threatened unemployment; in Bangladesh a decline in income is a short step away from hunger and starvation; many garment workers are already permanently malnourished (as described here; http://libcom.org/news/bangladesh-militarized-factory-visions-devouring-demons-capital-15092008).

Where this workers’ movement goes from here is anybody’s guess. But the ruling class is worried it may spread to the south-eastern port city of Chittagong, another smaller center of the garment industry, with 700 factories.

Security has been beefed up with special surveillance over the Chittagong city’s apparel sectors as tension brewed here against the backdrop of violence in the garment factories in Dhaka, police officials and garments association leaders said on Monday.

Nothing is resolved. Watch this space…

The entire press and media world goes on 24h strike across Greece in response to the closing down of a major daily and radio station, in a context of rising repression and urban guerrilla warfare.

On the 24th of June 2009, the entire press and media apparatus of Greece came to a standstill due to a 24h strike of press and media workers in response to the surprise shutting down of Eleftheros Typos, one of the country’s oldest right-wing newspapers, and the popular City Radio, both owned by the tycoon and president of the 2004 Olympic Games, Mrs Angelopoulou. The closing down of the daily and radio station came with no previous warning and are considered to be the first major effect of the global economic crisis in the country. The industrial solidarity action that took place on the 24th and deprived the entire country of newspapers and news broadcasts on both radio, TV and the Internet is a first response to the sacking of 450 workers of the joint business. At the same time workers occupied the offices of the newspaper and the radio station.

The press-media crisis and labour struggle come at a time of renewed tension across the country despite the summer holiday season. Social polarisation, which is seen by many as a result of the December Uprising, peaked again last week with yet another urban guerrilla attack by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a group that had attacked a police department and a TV station with automatic weapons last winter. This time the country came to a standstill as guerrillas executed an officer of the elite and secretive anti-terrorist bureau who was guarding the only accusation witness in the so-called Revolutionary People’s Struggle (ELA) trial. The trial, which is going through the appeal court, has been accused by the vast majority of the legal world as a sham (the accusation witness is in fact the ex-wife of the chief accused), putting innocent people through a long and painful ordeal on non-existent evidence regarding their involvement in the urban guerrilla group that disbanded in 1995 after 20 years of action. In their much-publicised communiqué, the Sect of Revolutionaries promised to make Greece bleed, targeting journalists, politicians and fascist leaders, while putting forward a new class theory positing at its epicentre as an archenemy what the guerrillas call the Lumpen Petty-Bourgeois Class. The assassination and the communiqué have created havoc in the government, which has been trying to introduce a series of tough ‘Law and Order’ laws of disputable constitutional validity and judicial applicability.

The new police-state legislation introduced by the frail 1-MP majority right-wing government, which secured the backing of the tiny fascist party (LAOS), include: a) immediate extradition of any ‘foreigner’ (non-greek citizen, including EU citizens) who is accused (not convicted) for a crime that can receive a penalty of more than 3 months; b) up to 10 years imprisonment for any greek citizen who ‘helps or harbours’ ‘illegal immigrants’, doctors included; c) up to 10 years imprisonment of committing any crime or felony (from spitting on the street to murder) wearing a hood, or otherwise ‘disclosing one’s characteristics’, including heavy make-up; d) compulsory DNA sampling of anyone convicted to three months of prison or more; e) free and unlimited use of blast flash grenades by the police in dispersing crowds. The new dictatorial measures have been met with hostility of all the political world, fascists excluded, and by the Lawyer’s Union who has pledged to challenge their validity both in national and international courts.

Workers at the Linamar plant in Swansea have voted in favour of an all-out strike in support of sacked union convenor Rob Williams.

Following the sacking of Unite union convenor Rob Williams at the Swansea Linamar plant, other workers have voted to strike to have their colleague reinstated. It is understood that turnout for the vote was 88%, with 139 voting ‘yes’ in support of the strike, and 19 voting ‘no’ against it.

A representative from the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) said of the vote:
This is a marvellous vote in the teeth of mass intimidation by the Linamar management who have threatened the workers with the sack in the past if they took strike action to get Rob his job back. They are saying clearly in this vote that they will decide who they want as their convenor and not management.

The vote by secret ballot under the onerous anti- union laws and in the face of an unprecedented recession in the car industry is a real indication that the workers know that what is at stake is not just Rob’s job but their very future, will they be able to have proper trade union representation or will they be forced to work under the dictates of the bosses with no rights to speak of.

Williams was originally sacked on 28 April due to an “irretrievable breakdown of trust”. Bosses at the Linamar plant were said to have forced him off the premises after he had locked himself in his office, refusing to leave. Rob was initially called back to work, but later that week was sacked for good.

The workers have indicated that they will go on an indefinite strike until Williams is reinstated.

Williams was recently in Belfast speaking to members of the Socialist Party (of which he is a member), and other members of Belfast trade unions and political groups, as well as sacked traffic wardens. Williams, vice-chair of the NSSN, is scheduled to speak at their conference in London on 27 June .


This article summarises some of the issues facing the education sector and how they are more acute in times of recession, and was the result of numerous discussions on Libcom. It first appeared in issue 1 of The Leveller.

The recession is everywhere we look, in this very paper there’s many articles reporting on, and discussing, the widespread and varied effects of the ‘economic downturn’ across all sectors. Education is feeling this sharply – whether you’re a school pupil, a university student, a teacher, a lecturer, a researcher, a library worker, an admin clerk, a canteen worker, or whatever, you have probably been confronted with the real effects of the current economic situation. This brief analysis of the effects of recession on education also includes the views of some students and former students about the recession, and what it means for education.

If you’re a university boss in a recession what’s the first thing you do when you’re short of money? As well as attacks on workers’ pay and conditions, and department closures, you can always bleed more money from students. A survey of university vice chancellors this year found that more than half want a minimum annual tuition fee of £5,000 .

Managing the recession ideologically is proving difficult for the governments and bosses; it’s hard for them to hide just how bad this crisis is. With some universities on the brink of financial ruin prior to the recession, and many more under even more economic stress now, they’re telling us the money has to come from somewhere. On one hand, they’re blaming the economic crisis on silly people borrowing ‘beyond their means’ and crazy bankers lending recklessly, on the other they’re telling students, who make up almost half of 17-30 year olds, to embrace even higher debts!

But hey, it’s a recession; we all have to make sacrifices, right? Well, this is the position of the useless National Union of Students. They recently abandoned a long-standing basic demand for free higher education. With growing economic pressure on university student, the significance of the fees issue is that in the current economic climate and with the precarity facing all of us, the most basic demands that a student’s union, however useless, should make, should be one of free education.

Free education isn’t even a radical demand – we had free university education until a decade ago when it was taken from us, and we shouldn’t forget that many of the people who brought in fees, and who make decisions about our lives without our say, every day, benefited from a free university education. It’s not clear what the NUS actually envisages a graduate tax looking like, or whether it would amount to the same as current fees, or proposed fees increases – their position currently is just an objection to paying at ‘point of entry’.

The notion that student fees are an issue only for the ‘middle class’ is nonsense. At a time when the government is close to its 50% university attendance goal, university is no longer the pursuit of an elite. With regards the perceived exclusivity of higher education in the UK, former student John makes the point that increasing fees can only serve to further widen the gap between rich and poor in access to university – ‘if you’re upset about a small number of people having access to uni, making people pay to go isn’t going to increase access to it is it? Especially as it’s just the thin end of the wedge. First no grants, then low fees, means tested, then higher fees, means tested, and eventually astronomical fees, with no means testing, like the US.’

Alex, a student teacher in Oxford says ‘education for its own sake is something that is seriously under attack here’, although a cynic would say education for education’s sake was already a thing of the past!

Year on year there is a steady rise in the number of hours students are working part-time to support themselves financially while studying. The situation for working class students is getting worse. A degree was never a guarantee of a stable job anyway, but given the proposed extortionate rises in fees, rises in costs of living, and general attacks on living conditions all round it seems the prospects for anyone in HE are as grim as ever.

Between 1996 and 2006, the number of students undertaking paid work to support their studies increased by 54% and the number of students studying full-time and working full-time rose by 86%. It has been shown that students working 15hrs a week are about a third less-likely to get a 2.1 or better degree than those who work less or not at all. So, as you would expect, those who can afford not to work, often end up with a better degree.

In the late 90s, when tuition fees were first introduced, about 41% of 17-30 year-olds (that’s ‘higher education age’) went into higher education . Student enrolments shot up between 1998 and 2001 and have stagnated since, at around 46%. Numbers of part time students have also increased over that period – of the 1.15 million people undertaking first degrees in the UK in 2006-7, close to one-fifth were studying part-time .

While it is true that in real numbers university admissions are UP (this of course means nothing really as many graduates find their degrees worthless and are either unemployed after graduating, or find themselves in employment in sectors that do not require a degree), students entering higher education from poorest backgrounds have stagnated , thus in percentage terms, they now represent a smaller proportion of the actual student body despite a very slight percentage increase ‘low socio-economic group’ teenagers accepting university places.

With the average annual bursary students receive at around £1700, it’s no wonder so many work to support themselves, and why they often leave university with debt in excess of £10,000.
Those dismissing the fees issue shouldn’t do so too readily. University has opened up, largely because loans were introduced. Not because loans in themselves are a good thing, but simply because they allowed people who could not live off the grant to have the money to go. Of course, the government deliberately reduced the value of the grant over a few years, especially in the 90s.

In our own back yard, Queens University has the highest term-time part-time work on average per student for any UK higher education institution, and it’s in the ‘UK Ivy League’! Belfast students are more likely to have part-time work, for less money, and are more likely to live at home than the UK average. The average student working in Belfast part-time earns £91 per week compared to the £98 UK average. Almost two-thirds of university students in Belfast have part-time jobs compared to the UK average of 41%, whilst 29% of students studying in Belfast live at home compared to the UK average of 18%. That figure is also rising across the UK, with a growing number of students opting to stay at home with the recession putting an ever greater pressure on student finance. This is an important aspect of the impact of tuition fees on poorest students – their choice of university has become even more limited, with more electing to stay at home for university because their families can’t afford to support them studying elsewhere , and most expressing concern about the prospect of earning a living when they graduate.

Higher Education (HE) is facing increasing attacks on a variety of fronts, with up to 100 HE institutions are planning job cuts in the next year , as well as moves towards ‘efficiency’ (that’s ‘cuts’ again to me and you) and recruitment freezes. No doubt the proposed cutbacks will be justified in the light of the recession, with workers again paying for a crisis of capitalism’s making. Locally, at Queens University for example, a few issues are particularly pressing:

– Discussion is afoot to increase student fees to £10,000 per year!
– Many departments have been closed in the last few years, because it’s not immediately obvious to the bosses how money can be made from their respective disciplines – the departments of Geology, Classics, and the History of Science have all faced the axe of a ‘rational’ business model.
– Other departments, such as Politics, and Philosophy, disciplines broad enough to warrant their own departments at many universities, have been amalgamated, in the name of ‘efficiency’.
– While in 2008, other departments had been seeking compulsory staff redundancies for the first time in the university’s history. This plan was shelved after union members threatened action, but could still remain a possibility, and were a precedent to be set, could see the imposition of such measures across the university by bosses.
– Staff are facing increasingly excessive probationary targets.

In the face of proposed job cuts at 100 HE institutions, workers in the sector, including lecturers, cleaner, security staff and library workers, are also campaigning for a 6% pay rise, and a minimum of £2,000 per year pay rise for the lowest paid in the sector. The bosses are threatening workers that it’s either pay rises or jobs, and that these two issues will be ‘traded off’ against each other.

The issues facing schools now are by no means new, as with those facing other sectors, they are simply more acute and pressing in times of recession. Teaching unions are currently considering industrial action over numerous issues:

– Class sizes
– Compulsory testing for primary school pupils
– 10% wage increase
– Job cuts in 6th form and FE
– School closures

Last year, a quarter of a million teachers walked out on strike against below-inflation pay-rises, disrupting nearly 10,000 schools and inspiring other workers in their fight against the government’s 2% pay cap. This at a time with inflation running at around 5% constituted a real terms pay cut.
In April this year, parents in Glasgow, as part of the Save Our Schools Campaign, were occupying local primary schools scheduled to be closed.

In London, pupils at a Hounslow school organized a protest over the removal of one of their annual ‘non-uniform days’ – this might not seem significant, but such days, and indeed anything fun in schools is often first to go when teachers are under pressure to cram in more and more content into an already overloaded teaching term. This was an example of pupils taking a stand, to have a say in what happens in their school.

In terms of recruitment, for the first time in a decade, the UK government met its targets for new science and maths teachers. Why? Because aspirational financiers and bankers, ironically people from the sector largely responsible for creating the recession are abandoning money-making for the less-precarious, though we should hesitate to say ‘secure’ about any job these days, world of teaching.

What will this mean? With the government no longer as ‘desperate’ for teachers, it’s likely that they will cut funding funding trainee teachers in England and Wales, and in the long term, it would not be surprising if the ‘golden hellos’ for shortage-subjects at least, were retracted or at least slashed.
This would mean that student-teachers would find it much harder to live during the intense PGCE year, as is the case in Northern Ireland, where students get NO bursary at all. This results in trainee teachers either breaking the bank with loans, many of whom have families to support, or coming from only a small proportion of graduates who can afford to be a student again for another year (possibly with rich parents or some independent source of income). Either way the landscape for the next generation of teachers is changing as much as it has for undergraduates.

Amongst all this of course, is the oft-ignored question of what is education for at all? With teachers complaining about the restrictive curriculum and seemingly never-ending battery of tests, and pupils resenting them even more, it’s clear that education as it exists doesn’t serve the interests of the working class. School is a chore, resented by both the staff and the students in many cases. Education for education’s sake is something most of us will never have experienced. The bosses need to keep producing generations of workers they can exploit, and education is twisted within this system – so we’ve schools adopting prescriptive courses, or universities producing graduates with extremely generic skills that leave that malleable enough to be good paper pushers but often wondering why they had bothered at all, having simply followed what amounted to nothing more than a glorified box-ticking exercise.

All this needs measured of course – so we have Sats and league tables in schools, and Ofsted inspections – schools competing to be deemed ‘satisfactory’ and avoid ‘special measures’. While at university we have the Research and Assessment Exercise (RAE), almost universally despised by university teaching and research staff.

For those who don’t know, university departments have to justify their existence, and individuals their jobs, by raising their ‘research profiles’ – this usually means individuals being highly pressured to produce as many articles as they can between RAE periods, in order to keep their jobs. Of course, this means they have less time to do that other important part of their jobs: TEACH. Many complain they’ve less time to develop their courses and incorporate developments in their subjects into their classes. The constant pressure to publish, publish, publish, means they’ve less time to mark, prepare lectures, read essays. What does this mean? In effect, many work long hours, often taking work home, just to stay on top of their reading, writing, marking etc. Since many in academia, especially those new to it, are on fixed-term contracts, often of 1-3 years, there is the constant fear that ‘if I don’t do this work, they’ll find someone else who will’.

Education workers under capitalism will always face this competition, and pupils and students will always feel strangled by a system that pigeon-holes them and measures them, labels them and categorises them. Education should be a liberating and fulfilling activity that equips us not only with the skills and knowledge that we need to live, but also allow us to pursue goals and interests that we want to pursue. This won’t happen under capitalism, where education is co-opted to meet the needs of bosses.

The seeds of a fight-back are there. In the last month alone, teachers are on the verge of a number of strikes and boycotts, while we’ve also seen pupil protests, and school occupations, and we could see higher education workers across the sector take industrial action against job cuts this year, so while it’s early days, this could be the tip of the iceberg.

It is clear that the effects of the recession are widespread, affecting all aspects of education; primary, secondary, and tertiary; students, teachers, and lecturers. However, we shouldn’t lose site of the fact that the recession is being used to mask attacks on the working class that bosses and the government have always wanted to implement. Whether we’re being told we’re ‘lucky’ to have a job, or ‘fortunate’ to able to go to school at all, it is expected of us that we’ll make sacrifices in order to get us out of a crisis that was not of our making. When the systemic and structural apparatus of capitalism results in the abject failure to meet most people’s basic needs, which has manifested itself beyond doubt in the current economic climate, we’re told to tighten our belts. When we’re experiencing increasing attacks on our living and working conditions, we’re told that our sacrifices are necessary to bandage up the festering wounds of capitalism. Never are we told that there’s another way of running society, or that it’s the fundamental nature of capitalism that has resulted in this collapse. To anarchists, it’s clear that not only should the working class not be footing the bill to revive capitalism from a catastrophe of its own doing, but that it isn’t worth reviving.

The Observer reports today in its Business/Media section that
unemployment is now forecast to go over 4 million. The question
therefore arises as to what the labour movement and the TUC are doing.
The answer in short is nothing. At the same time as New Labour is
drowning in the stench of its own corruption and fighting like ferrets
in a sack, the Welfare Reform Act is being implemented. Parents of
children 1+ are now expected to ‘prepare’ for work that isn’t there,
i.e. leap over more hurdles. Sanctions will increase (and PCS are doing
little or nothing about this and their members will bear the brunt of
the odium) and of course Incapacity Benefit is on its way out. The
chief implementor of this is one of the chief crooks in New Labour,
James Purnell, he with the face of a Poor Law Commissioner.
Of course the TUC does have its own ‘consultative’ committee of
Unemployed Workers Centres, except it does nothing. It hasn’t even
bothered to issue a statement or a leaflet about the Welfare Reform
Bill. And a motion at SERTUC to withdraw from this useless committee
was rejected after the Chair had prevented the delegate from Brighton
Trades Council from moving it.
I therefore send this e-mail as a beginning of the process of trying to
recreate a movement to fight the attacks on the unwaged and unemployed.
Tony Greenstein
Secretary – Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre