Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.
More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.
Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.
Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.
The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.
A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.
The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.
Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.
Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.
Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.
These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.
“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”
The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.
Most were delighted at the turnout.
Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”
Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.
“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”
A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.
One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.
Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.
“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”
Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.
Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.
And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.
The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.”
Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.
Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.
Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 10 July 2014
Thousands of North East workers are gearing up for one of the biggest days of industrial action in this country in years.
Teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants will join up with around 1.5 million colleagues nationwide in a 24-hour walk-out in a protest over pay, pensions and work conditions.
Bin collections will be suspended, council buildings including libraries will be closed and most controversially it will result in the sweeping closure of hundreds of schools across the region.
Mike McDonald, Regional Secretary of the NUT which has 20,000 members in the region, said: “Teachers are extremely reluctant to strike because of the impact on children’s education.
“However they feel that this current Government’s attacks on education will cause far more damage.
“Morale in the profession is at rock bottom, teachers are wasting hours on pointless paperwork and scores are quitting in their first years because of unmanageable workload, uncertain pay and worsening pensions.
“Children deserve teachers who are motivated, enthused and valued. Education Secretary Michael Gove would do well to engage properly with the profession and address teachers’ concerns to end this dispute.
“For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”
The Fire Brigade Union is protesting at changes to firefighters’ pensions and a later retirement age.
Meanwhile the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the Public and Commercial Services Union are protesting over pay rates.
A pay freeze was imposed in 2010 for three years followed by a 1% increase last year and the same offer this year.
They say that represents an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s.
Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s Deputy Regional Convenor and a local government employee said: “The pay offer from the local government employer is derisory in the extreme.
“This year’s pay offer would see 90% of school and local government workers receive a further pay cut. The offer of a 1% pay rise if you earn £7.71 per hour or more, or if you earn below that it is slightly more to take us just above the National Minimum Wage.
“This pay offer does not keep pace with price increases and our pensions will suffer. This pay offer is nowhere near enough.”
Karen Loughlin, the union’s Regional Lead Officer on Local Government, said: “Part-time workers – mainly women and more than half the local government workforce – have been particularly hard hit, with their hourly earnings now worth the same as they were 10 years ago.
“Many low paid part-time Local Government workers need benefits and tax credits to keep their families out of poverty.
“It is deeply disturbing to hear the continuing stories of Local Government workers resorting to food banks.
“UNISON is demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that our members perform in delivering public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers have not voted for this week’s strike action, so it is disappointing that the leadership of the unions are pushing for a strike that will achieve nothing and benefit no one. Union leaders are relying on mandates for action that lack authority – the National Union of Teachers is relying on a ballot run nearly two years ago.
“As part of our long-term economic plan, this Government has been taking tough decisions to address the budget deficit we inherited in 2010.
“One was to introduce pay restraint in the public sector, while protecting the lowest paid. Pay restraint protects public sector jobs, supports high-quality public services and helps put the UK’s finances back on track.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 July 2014
Teachers are making their lessons dull on purpose to impress Ofsted inspectors, claim Wearside researchers.
A report from the University of Sunderland claims teachers have to make their lessons dull and mechanical during Ofsted inspections in an attempt to be judged outstanding.
Instead of making the lessons enjoyable and creative, the report claims teachers are constrained and the push for conformity is hindering progress in deprived schools.
The report, ‘Supporting outstanding pupil progress in schools in an area of social and economic deprivation’, focused on a cluster of schools in disadvantaged areas and what behaviours make an outstanding teacher, contributing to outstanding student progress.
Ofsted is a key barrier for students to learn because of its insistence on having objectives at the start of the lesson, which does not always work with each student, the report reveals.
It adds that creativity should be harnessed and encouraged in learning, as well as making it more personalised.
The report states: “The push for conformity can hinder progress. More risk is needed at times, more ‘off-the-wall’ activities and more enjoyment.
“Doing things the ‘Ofsted’ way, you can sometimes lose sight of the love of learning.”
Several staff interviewed said that always having the objectives at the start of the lesson goes against ideas of discovery and student-centred learning and can make lessons dull and mechanical.
The report said the Pupil Premium is inadequate to counter disadvantages, and decisions about educational policy are made, for the most part, by very rich and privileged people who have never understood such levels of deprivation.
Researchers concluded that in disadvantaged areas, learning needs to be more personalised and students need more motivation.
Professor Bridget Cooper, director of the Centre for Pedagogy at the University of Sunderland, who led the report, said: “It is obvious from this report that schools in socially and economically deprived areas need more generous and more appropriate funding.
“Those in power need to understand and take into account the effort teachers in those schools have to make to counteract the multiplicity of needs of their students for their entire school lives.
“It is completely unfair and irrelevant to compare these schools, teachers and children throughout their academic life unfavourably with schools which do not have to meet such great need as the teachers have to work even harder.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 03 July 2014
Children are going to school hungry, cold and wearing dirty clothes because their parents are struggling for money, a teachers union has warned.
Members of the NASUWT, which represents thousands of teachers across the North-East and North Yorkshire, have reported that some children are turning up for lessons with mouldy food in their lunchboxes and holes in their uniforms.
A survey of almost 4,000 NASUWT members found that many teachers are giving pupils money out of their own pocket, providing food and lending clothes to help them out.
The warnings come days after foodbanks across the region reported a 463 per cent increase in the number of people using the services.
The Trussell Trust reported that 18,592 adults and children in County Durham received three days’ emergency food relief from its foodbanks in 2013-14. In total, 59,000 people accessed foodbank support in the North–East.
The president of the NASUWT, Geoff Branner, said that schools alone cannot solve the problems of poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse.
In a speech at NASUWT’s annual conference in Birmingham, Mr Branner said: “Public education is not just about developing an individual’s capacity to earn, it has a moral objective as well – to tackle inequality.
But he added: “Whether education alone can overcome the malign effects of poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse in all its forms is questionable.”
The poll of NASUWT teachers revealed stories of pupils hugging radiators to keep warm and getting upset when they lose basic items such as pencils and rubbers because they are fearful of the cost of replacing them.
The union said it had commissioned the survey in response to concerns raised by teachers about the long-term impact of Government economic policies on children and young people.
The findings show that almost three quarters – 74 per cent – of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry, with 80 per cent saying that youngsters had been lacking in energy and concentration because they were eating poorly.
The poll also revealed that 27 per cent of teachers said they had experience of students losing their homes due to financial problems.
One NASUWT member said: “I have never known such abject poverty as my pupils are suffering at the moment.
“Many are affected by the cold – they cannot complete any work at home as a result of lack of heat, warmth, equipment, and we are seeing more pupils being told by their parents to stay behind in school at night in order to make sure they can do their homework with light and warmth.”
Another said they had seen “children practically hugging radiators, children eating at friend’s houses because they don’t have food at home. Mouldy food in packed lunch boxes”.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The lives of children and young people are being degraded by poverty and homelessness.
“Teachers and other public service workers are struggling to pick up the pieces caused by this Coalition’s economic and social policies.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said the Government was taking decisive action to help disadvantaged pupils.
She said: “Around 1.3m children currently receive a free, nutritious meal at school. We are extending this to all five to seven-year-olds in state maintained schools from September and allocating more than £1m to help schools establish more breakfast clubs.
“We have invested in the Pupil Premium, raising it from £625m in 2011-12 to £2.5bn in 2014-15.
“This is giving schools the additional resources they need to raise disadvantaged pupils attainment, and give them a better start in life.”
Source – Northern Echo 19 April 2014
Right wing “think tank” Policy Exchange (PE) – described by the Daily Telegraph as “the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right” – wants pay to be cut for public sector workers in the North East (and Merseyside, and the South West), pointing to research claiming that taxpayer-funded jobs in the region pay as much as 3200 pounds more than their equivalents in the private sector.
(As usual I have problems with terms like “as much as 3200”, which probably means a few lucky people do, but the majority get nowhere near. But policies like this will always quote the highest figure earned by the minority, rather than the far lower one that is the lot of the majority. Just something to bear in mind…)
What the PE has in its sights is regional pay policies. Matthew Oakley, head of economics and social policy at PE : “Nationalised pay negotiation is not fit for purpose for the modern public sector. It is bad for the economy and bad for public services. While the unions should still have a strong role in the future, we should move to a system where local public sector employers can decide how to negotiate salaries with employees in order to reflect the realities of their labour market.”
Which I translate as something like – employers tell employees ” lots of unemployment out there – either you accept lower wages or we find someone who will.”
Incidentally, could this be the same Matthew Oakley who was recently described by The Void as ” Britain’s biggest scrounger” ? It certainly could.
Matthew Oakley has previously authored a paper on welfare reform which includes not only a demand for a greater use of sanctions for part workers, but astonishingly even pre-emptive benefit sanctions for people on fixed term contracts. Oakley believes that these workers should be stripped of any entitlement to benefits at all if Jobcentre staff decide that they weren’t doing enough to find work even before they lost their job.
So impressed was Iain Duncan Smith with this swivel-eyed nonsense that he gave Oakley a non-job on the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) – the body whose job it is to scrutinise social security reforms.. This means he is now paid £256.80 a day of tax payer’s cash to provide so-called expert opinions on policies he helped create.
Prior to working at the Policy Exchange, Oakley was in another tax payer funded non-job at the Treasury where he worked on a white paper outlining proposals for Universal Credit. Now Iain Duncan Smith is to shovel yet more of our money into his grubby pockets by asking him to carry out what is laughingly called an ‘independent review’ of benefit sanctions.
Whilst over two million people are desperate for any job, Oakley now has three – and two of them at our expense.
Nice work if you can get it !
But as pointed out by Neil Foster, head of policy at the Northern TUC : “PE still fail to compare like with like since many of the jobs in the public sector simply don’t exist in the private sector and vice versa.
“They lost the argument on regional pay and I’d advise them to move on to other areas of research such as looking at the wealth at the top that has gone up during austerity, rather than arguing North East nurses, midwives, teachers and school cooks are overpaid.”
You might think that what all this proves is that the wages of private sector workers are being kept low by unscruprulous employers, and that rather than reducing the pay of the public sector, we should instead be raising the wages of the private sector.
Alternatively, you might think that if we should have lower regional wages, we should also have lower regional outgoings – lower power bills, food prices, transport, etc. But “pay more, get less” is the unofficial motto of organizations like PE and the neo-liberal forces they serve.
You might also like to bear in mind that a study for the GMB union shows 631,000 public sector jobs have been lost since the Coalition came to power in 2010,
and the union predicts that fresh cuts being eyed by Tory Chancellor George Osborne will take that figure over a million before the next election in May 2015.
GMB national officer Brian Strutton said: “These statistics show the devastating effect of this Government’s austerity cuts on total public sector employment. Some parts of the country that are most dependent on the public sector to support their local economies have been hardest hit.The tragedy is that the worse is yet to come.
“The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast for net total public sector job losses during the lifetime of this Parliament means that the prospect for the next two years could be up to a further 400,000 job losses.”
Still, as we’ve often been told, the private sector will take up the slack and replace all those lost public sector jobs, albeit for lower wages.
It doesn’t seem to be happening. Isn’t that strange ?
You don’t think they might have been lying to us, do you ?