‘We Are Part of Something Big’: Teachers Join the Strike Wave

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Scotland’s teachers have joined the surging strike movement with demands that pay keeps pace with inflation. Aisling Gallagher, an EIS Rep in Glasgow, says the mood of solidarity is strong, and attempts to turn workers in different sectors against each other are being rejected.

Scotland’s primary and secondary Schools have been shuttered in the first nation-wide school strike since the 1980s. Teachers are demanding their pay keep pace with inflation at 10 percent and have rejected an offer from Cosla local authority bosses worth 5 percent – with many teachers facing an even lower offer. We spoke to one leading union activist in the Glasgow area about the strike, and its place in the growing strike wave across Scotland and Britain.

Conter: Why are teachers out on strike?

Aisling Gallagher: Teachers are out on strike because the real terms value of our pay has fallen again and again since 2008. We recovered some of that with our 2018 pay campaign, but since then, forces outside our control have seen inflation rise from 7 percent when we submitted our claim, to over 11 percent CPI and 14 percent RPI. As it stands, Scottish teachers are looking to recoup part of what we’ve lost. During the pandemic we were hailed as heroes. We would like the Scottish Government and Cosla to put their money where their mouth is: we can’t pay our bills with empty plaudits.

C: What do teachers make of the claim that the Scottish Government lacks the powers to raise funds for wages?

AG: The Scottish Government’s budget is not fixed and our pay claim has been carefully considered and properly costed. The Scottish Government continues to obfuscate around the issue of pay for teachers and other public sector workers despite having the powers to ensure workers in this country are paid a decent and dignified wage.

C: The Scottish minister for education, Shirley-Anne Somerville, recently defended the Cosla pay offer to teachers on the grounds that teachers here are paid more than in England. What are teachers here saying about that?

AG: This line has angered teachers because it’s quite simply further obfuscation. Teacher pay in Scotland has actually risen more slowly in real terms than teacher pay in England. Scottish teachers were earning significantly more in real terms in 2007, when the current government came to power, than in 2021, a situation that was hard fought for by teacher unions like the EIS. For the Scottish Government to claim this as a victory for them, rather than for our unions, is ridiculous. Furthermore, teachers aren’t interested in being drawn into a race to the bottom against other workers.

C: Earlier this year, as strikes in the rail industry began to pick up, anti-strike journalists and politicians often noted school teachers could expect similar pay to them despite spending more time in education. How do you respond to these claims, and what is the attitude of striking teachers to strikes in other industries?

AG: As in my previous response, teachers aren’t interested in being drawn into a race to the bottom, whether by the Scottish Government, Cosla, the journalists you’ve mentioned or anyone else. I stand in solidarity with other trade unionists, always, and support their claims for fair pay and better conditions.

C: The first day of the teachers’ strike coincides with strikes in many other sectors, including post, university and more, with new dates for strikes on rail networks announced up to Christmas. What does solidarity between the sectors currently look like, and what are the prospects for united action in the future?

AG: EIS representatives have spoken on the picket lines and at the rallies of fellow trade unions so the solidarity between us all is very strong. We’ve also voted to donate to strike funds where possible.  Other unions have been invited to speak at our rallies today, and we appreciate their solidarity. Workers currently face greater attacks than we have in decades and our trade union movement is only strong when we stand together and refuse to be divided. Unity is our strength and personally I’m planning on visiting other picket lines today to show comradeship to trade unionists in other unions as well as my own. Many of us have been inspired, especially, by the bravery of our fellow trade unionists in CWU and RMT and we strike today knowing that we’re part of a much bigger movement.

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