IWW Education Workers campaigning in defence of public education
On March 4, education workers based in Universities across the West Midlands took part in leafleting across the University of Birmingham, raising awareness about the day of action and encouraging other education workers and students to support the initiative. This was followed up the following Saturday by another round of campaigning, heralding the importance of workers and students mobilizing in support of public education. The IWW education workers targeted the national Education Show, which took place at Birmingham’s National Education Centre, and then moved to Birmingham’s main shopping street, New Street, to raise awareness about the problems facing public education in the region.
Public education is under attack in a number of ways in the UK and in the West Midlands. In Birmingham the local council wants to turn 7 secondary schools into Academies. This means that a local business is invited to contribute £2 million in donations to the school, and in exchange is granted control over all major decisions taken by the school. This is a straightforward attempt to sell control of the school! Whilst you would expect that this was unpopular with local parents, unfortunately the national government is keen on this experiment to introduce the ‘wisdom’ of the private sector into local education, and invariably offers some kind of sweetener so that the deal is approved. As a result, staff’s contracts are subject to change, and the school curriculum can be adjusted by the private entrepreneurs who are allowed to take control of the school.
Universities have also come under heightened attack. The Government Minister responsible for universities, Peter Mandelson, announced before Christmas that the budget for higher education would be cut by 7 per cent. The Government is also backtracking on its promise to ensure that 50 per cent of adults have the opportunity to attend university. Birmingham University recently announced that it is looking to cut 200 jobs (an initiative it labels, ‘sustainable excellence’!) and has already closed the entire Sociology Department.
The Government also looks increasingly likely to increase tuition fees. It has set up a commission to look into the question of charging students higher fees to attend the more popular universities; a move which would obviously introduce greater inequality within the higher education system, and represent a further privatization of the public education system. University of Birmingham VC (chief executive), David Eastwood, is on the small panel that's been set up to investigate (or, more likely, approve) the proposal.
There are initial attempts to challenge these moves. Staff and students put on a high-profile campaign to oppose the closure of Sociology at Birmingham. Students recently occupied the VC’s office in University of Sussex, and staff there have recently voted to take strike action. Staff at the University of Leeds recently voted overwhelmingly to strike in opposition to job cuts, and managed to achieve a return to negotiations by the University as a result.
The IWW’s education workers continue to mobilize and organize in defence of public education and against further privatization.