‘Extremist’ teachers make polite request for a fair pay rise

‘Strike now, while you can!’ Croydon’s teachers rose to the challenge in their union’s placard competition as they marched on Parliament today. By our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE

Getting their message across: teachers were joined by ‘extremist’ civil servants in their march down Whitehall

For many from the Croydon contingent that made their way up to central London for the teachers’ demonstration today, this was their first experience of a strike.

As they processed along Regent Street, across Piccadilly, then down to Trafalgar Square and along Whitehall to a stage just by the heavily guarded end of Downing Street, they would probably be surprised to know that, just down the road in Parliament, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was denouncing them as “extremist protesters”.

They were protesting. That much is true, and I did see a banner that read “Fuck the Tories!”, a concept that might be considered, if not extreme, then at least unsubtle. But these protesters seemed remarkably measured to me.

After all, their demands are little more than asking the government to pay a wage rise in line with inflation. So a polite request not to be poorer than last year.

And this after a decade of below inflation rises, a decade of getting poorer every year.

They are also very concerned about the damage to education caused by years of underfunding by government. This measured approach was reflected in the tone of the placards. A popular one was, “I’d rather be teaching but this is important”, literally a sign that teachers care about education, care about their pupils.

Good-natured: teachers have suffered year-on-year wage decreases for a decade

Another placard I saw was a version of the classic “If you are reading this, thank a teacher”, but which had been graphically updated as “If you are reading this, fund our schools!”

My favourite, though, was the very non-extremist sounding “No Fundy, No Learny”.

The chanting, too, was good natured, and appropriate for a family audience. Lots of “No ifs! No buts! No education cuts!”

And there was self-parody, too, after years when teachers have been forced to make up for the lack of equipment out of their own pockets: “What do we want? Glue sticks! When do we want them? Now!”

But according to the leader of the Conservative Party, these teachers are “extremists”.

Lots of the protesters had their children with them. It turns out some teachers are also parents. Who knew?

They also travel on public transport and so had packed, Womble-like, on to the Underground and the Overground, the only transport today not hit by strikes. Some bus routes were running; many were not.

In my last piece for Inside Croydon, I made reference to the rail strike coinciding with the teachers’ strike and the potential difficulty of getting to the demonstration with the comment “Bloody rail workers!”

Solidarity: an estimated 40,000 teachers, plus rail workers, civil servants and lecturers, took part in today’s march

In Whitehall, speaking to the 40,000 teachers at the end of the march, Mick Whelan, the leader of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said, “Think how many there could have been here if it wasn’t for the bloody train drivers!” Mick Whelan had stolen my joke!

There were several speakers, representatives of the day’s striking unions, the NEU, the UCU (the university lecturers’ union) and the PCS (civil servants), but the top of the bill was Mick Lynch, whose recent media appearances have given him celebrity status.

Lynch is good on the telly, but he’s even better live. He gave a rousing speech, about how we were all, whether teachers, lecturers, civil servants, nurses, railway workers, in this together. Somehow, it sounded better coming from him than it did from David Cameron all those years ago. I am not ashamed to confess that his invocation of a united working class brought just the hint of a tear to my eye.

As I made my way to Westminster Tube station, I passed a small bunch of anti-Brexit protesters lingering across the road from Parliament. Among the half dozen or so blue and gold flags of the European Union, was one with stark white lettering on a black background, “Strike now, while you can!”

It made an ominous end to the day.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to ‘Extremist’ teachers make polite request for a fair pay rise

  1. There is a lot of extremism about these days. Extreme tolerance of politicians who jet off on holiday whilst claiming public money, extreme tolerance of ex Chancellors who try to avoid tax by salting money away abroad, extreme tolerance of ministers who seem to have accumulated a shed load of bullying accusations, extreme tolerance of Home Secretaries who dream of deporting asylum seekers to Africa whilst denying legal routes of entry, extreme tolerance of letting millions of workers take pay cuts while denying cost of living rises.

    Yes, I agree with the PM, there is a hell of a lot of extremism these days.

  2. Sarah Bird says:

    I supported the rally yesterday for the unions . Police estimated an attendance 40,000.00 but it looked so much larger . At the stand in Whitehall by 1.00pm the end of the march was still at Portland Place . There was considerable support for all the strikers and the unions .All the speakers were good . Zarah Sultana MP and Diane Abbot were both very powerful. Mick Lynch, as always was superb. The proposed Bill of Rights is a concern to all of us as the Liberty spokesperson said on Monday. Everyone should be worried

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