ANOTHER VIEW: When will our leaders learn?

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The Independent Online
It is scandalous that Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has rubbished the democratic decision of our conference to take strike action over class sizes. By attacking the decision, he has given the green light to the media to attack not just the left in the union but the professionalism of all teachers. He is blatantly enlisting the support of the press in an attempt to defeat the ballot for strike action.

What did the conference actually vote for? Nothing more than a one-day strike to protest against underfunding and oversized classes. Parents have already shown their support for such action. The magnificent demonstration organised by Fights Against Cuts in Education (Face) in London last month was one example of teachers, parents and governors taking action together up and down the country.

The Tories are doing to education what they have done to the health service. The introduction of the market is wrecking our schools.

Imagine our dismay when, instead of standing up with us to defend children's education, Labour's David Blunkett adopted the Tory agenda and attacked those who want to fight back by taking strike action. His statement last week advocating the sacking of teachers in "failing" schools has caused widespread revulsion because it blames teachers for problems caused by the Tories. Is it any wonder that teachers wanted to explain why we opposed his statement when he visited the NUT conference last Saturday?

When he arrived at the conference, instead of stopping to talk to teachers he was ushered through Blackpool's Winter Gardens by officials. At all times he was surrounded by journalists from the national press and camera crews. Unable to speak to him directly, teachers heckled and chanted. He was subjected to no physical harassment or intimidation. As a professional politician he is used to dealing with hecklers and he himself brushed off the incident later.

The media reporting of this incident has been a disgrace. What actually happened has been blown out of all proportion. The right-wing press has never defended teachers or education. The papers attacking us will attack Blunkett mercilessly in the run-up to the next election. Unfortunately, throughout this conference our union leaders have followed Blunkett's advice and argued against effective action. Now that they have lost the argument, they have given the green light to the witch-hunt.

The fight is on for a fully funded, decent education system. The crisis has become so acute this year that all the teaching unions are voting for action. Blunkett should be supporting these protests. If I am guilty of anything, it is a determination to defend the quality of all our children's education.

The writer was a delegate at the NUT conference and is a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He teaches English at a comprehensive school in Islington, north London.

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