Mary Dejevsky

Should teachers really be going on strike?

Striking school teachers in Glasgow (photo: Getty)

It had to happen, didn’t it? After the railway workers, the train drivers, the nurses, the ambulance crews, the civil servants, and in all likelihood the junior doctors, here come the teachers – although not quite as enthusiastically as their union leaders might have wished.

The National Education Union, representing 300,000 teaching staff has announced strikes through February and March, in pursuit of an above-inflation pay rise, saying that the 5 per cent offered amounts to a pay cut, given the double-digit inflation rate. Teachers are now set to join their Scottish colleagues, who have begun a series of ‘rolling strikes’.

The planned strikes will not involve all teachers, after the other main teaching union, the NASUWT, last week failed to muster the 50 per cent turnout necessary to validate industrial action. Union leaders suggested difficulties with the post (ironically, given that these stemmed from strikes in Royal Mail), among other factors, could have complicated voting. Turnout, at only 52 per cent in England, nearly scuppered the NEU vote, too, although those who did vote were overwhelmingly in favour of striking. The results suggest nonetheless that many teachers were in two minds about the wisdom of striking – and with good reason.

The NASUWT’s proposed 12 per cent (‘fully funded’ – i.e. not from school budgets) pay claim is almost as fantastical as the 19 per cent claim of the RCN on behalf of nurses (of which we have recently been hearing noticeably less). Although pay for many teachers has risen quite substantially in recent years, the unions argue that since 2010 they have suffered a ‘real terms pay cut’ of almost a quarter.

Let’s dispose of the ‘real terms pay cut’ at the start. Soaring inflation means that pretty much everyone – public sector, private sector, and especially those on fixed incomes – has suffered a ‘real terms pay cut’.

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