Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Fuck You, Sir.

 Where are the Jacobins?

Michael Gove has spat out a warning against "militancy" directed at teachers in an interview with Andrew Marr and has played the usual tune that those out-of-control unions are an "inconvenience" for ordinary people. Though the line is not unique to Gove's personality, rather it is the case that he is acting as any other politician would in his role. Of course, it is unique of Michael Gove to send out a mass-letter to head teachers across the country in which he informed them of their "moral duty" to keep schools open. The reaction of anger from head teachers was more than appropriate as Gove was nothing more than a know-it-all, who was grossly overpaid as a journalist (he was once paid £5,000 to declare his love for Tony Blair) and now feels he knows something about how the education system should be run. As late as 2008 Gove described Iraq as "a proper British foreign policy success", he had no time to mention the millions slaughtered, displaced, mutilated and robbed by that miserable conflict.

The main area of interest for Gove is not education but foreign policy as he is a member of the Henry Jackson Society, which is fully dedicated to the active promotion of democracy abroad by military intervention if necessary. Importantly for teachers the fact that Michael Gove is a neoconservative means he is adept at spinning "noble lies", not facing up to the consequences of his own actions and drawing up disastrous policy. The Iraq war consisted of the media and the soldier holding the Iraqi down so that the businessman can go through his pockets. The education reforms consist of the teachers being held down by anti-union legislation and the media whilst the Bullingdon Boys ransack the class-rooms. If you think that the Coalition has debt reduction in mind with any of its' reforms you should take a good look at the cuts to higher eduction, the funding of which amounts to 0.7% of GDP and the debt was around 70% in 2010.

So when you find that Mr Gove has increased the extent that the forces of the market can interfere with education, and he makes it easier for teachers to be sacked, don't think it has anything to do with "debt reduction". Keep in mind this is the same minister who pissed £21 million into the mouths of consultants. Remind yourself that out of 32 of these so-called "free schools" 13 of them will be in the most affluent areas, only 2 will be in the 10% most deprived areas and 10 in 20% of the most deprived areas. Less than a fifth will be opened in the North and over half will be opened in the South. These schools are a blessing for the most sharp-elbowed parents of the middle-class, who are necessary to win over in order for a Conservative majority to be achieved in 2015. Teachers are expected to work until the age of 68, raise contributions by up to 50% and all for a pension that will be shrunk in value by 15%. As if all of this is not bad enough, Michael Gove and David Cameron actually demand that the teachers lie down and let this happen.

For a clear and fair debate over the issues we might turn to the BBC, which would disappoint in the usual manner with Newsnight on Monday. Where Jeremy Paxman is basically paid to ask the wrong questions for the sake of concision and conventions. Thus, he opens the show with a line about those selfish teachers going on strike and depriving a "large number of children" of an education for a single day... So we should not be surprised to find Paxo giving the trade unionist a prod about the "damage" done to children, who'll have to endure the unremitting horror of daytime television. Oh think of the children! Then he prods her again about the "audacity" of teachers to go on strike when they have a lot more time off than anyone in the private sector. Tory fopdoodle Nick Boles was keen to point out on Newsnight that the teachers contribute 6.5% to the scheme while the government contributes 13.5% and went on to play the classic line that public sector workers are "pampered".

No doubt the name of the game is a vulgar populism, which pits workers against one another in a bid to divide and conquer. We have seen it again when David Cameron stresses that public sector pensions cost every household £1,000 a year. Cameron invoked the coming pensions crisis, which has come about because there will soon be more retirees than people in work and so there is a need for serious changes. For the Tories the change has to come in the public sector, "change" being in the long-term the overhaul of the current pensions system and the creation of a private system. The only possible ways to deal with the pensions crisis is to either raise taxes or increase immigration. These options are a nightmare for politicians concerned with their careers. So the first easy answer is to raise retirement age, leave the mess for the next government to clear up and give yourself an advantage in opposition. In the long-term the answer will be privatisation no doubt as the crisis is inflamed by the careerism of our beloved MPs.

The resort to strike action is unquestionable in this instance, the only real matter is just how effective it will be. This isn't 1974 when industrial action broke the back of a Conservative government and brought down Ted Heath, who had struck out at the social democratic consensus in a way which was not emulated by the Thatcherites. The approach of the Con-Dem Coalition is not much different from Heath's scatter-gun attack, though Cameron does not have to bludgeon the unions to curtail their ability to resist pay-cuts, redundancies and dawn raids on pensions. Heath was brought down by significant industrial action, though it should not be forgotten that it was industrial action that contributed to the fall of Callaghan in 1979. Since then the labour movement has been smashed, the extent to which was demonstrated in 1990 as workers endured some of the biggest wage-cuts in the world. Union membership has declined sharply as has the influence of unions in the Labour Party.

The necessary approach is not a general strike, which for some signifies the beginning of the long-awaited uprising against the ruling class in the name of equality, fraternity and so on. The truth is a lot less climactic! In actuality a general strike might reveal just how fragile the unions are to a wave of populism on which David Cameron would ride over us to the next election. There is a genuine need for a coordinated series of strikes which hit the government on policy in serious ways, as well as serious protests and civil disobedience which goes beyond the standard formula that is used to organise Flash Mobs. At the same time, we need an adequate leadership capable of breaking through the media-wall to the alternatives to cuts and expose the Coalition for what it is. It isn't clear what will happen over the next 10 years, the political class are in a silent crisis as George Osborne is willfully opening a door and no one knows what is on the other side.

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