“No ifs, no buts, stop school cuts!” was the sound at Valentine Primary School gates on 14 March, striking at the threat of redundancies due to budget cuts.
100% of National Education Union (NEU) members voted for strike action and 100% turned out on the picket line alongside parents, children and their supporters from Southampton Fair Funding Campaign, Southampton Socialist Party and Southampton Socialist Students.
,Southampton Socialist Party
They followed their picket with a lively protest on the steps of Southampton Civic Centre. Throughout the day this strike was on the local news, highlighting the threat posed. The local newspaper ran an editorial raising the significance of this strike.
The Tories want to bury the truth that funding per child has been cut by 8% under their austerity agenda – and the effects are devastating.
But local authorities also have a role to play. They are ultimately the ones holding the finances delegated to them from central government. This is convenient for the Tories as it means they can point the finger elsewhere. But it also means local councils could play a crucial role in resisting the cuts.
In Southampton, the Labour council has chosen to bury its head in the sand and point the finger back at the Tory government, writing a letter to Damian Hinds, the education minister. There has been no reply.
So despite the crisis in schools that Southampton Fair Funding has raised for over two years – lobbying MPs at Westminster, as well as councillors and MPs in Southampton, building the support of thousands of parents, teachers and schools across the city – the message from the council has been: ‘You’ve got to make the cuts, there’s no money.’
Talks break down
Talks between the council and the NEU to resolve this crisis broke down, with the council refusing to support the school, saying if it does this for Valentine, it will have to do so for every school. We agree. It should.
Surely this would build the campaign against school cuts, strengthen the position of the council and build pressure on the government to reverse school funding cuts. It also undermines the argument that the crisis at Valentine is the making of this particular school and not a problem at others.
Not only have they buried their heads in the sand, councillors have also been taking decisions to cap school budgets. The idea is to ‘spread the thin jam more evenly’.
In the case of Valentine, this means a cap of £600,000. Valentine is the city’s largest primary school and now has a deficit of close to £1 million.
Another 13 schools have deficits totalling over £4 million. 40% of primaries in the city have said they expect to be in deficit this year. This problem is not going away and is getting worse.
Councillor angers NEU
Despite standing on protests and holding the Stop School Cuts banner, councillor Paffey, the chair of education, has attacked the strike saying: “It is regrettable that the NEU representatives are rushing into strike action… I am advised that there are no planned redundancies, so this strike seems unnecessary.”
This has hugely angered NEU members, who previously met with councillor Paffey and outlined clearly that the impact of further cuts would mean job losses.
What he could do, if he is serious about fighting Tory education cuts, is allow schools to display NEU banners showing the impact of cuts and back the fight with the cash that the council has, taking from their £100 million useable reserves.
The school deficits amount to just 2% of the council’s revenue spending of £192 million: the price of a chocolate bar in every family’s weekly shopping.
But the Blairite Labour councillors in Southampton like Paffey and leader Hammond, refuse to fight. They accept their ‘responsibility’ to carry out Tory cuts.
With the May elections looming and anger at school and council cuts growing, we need Southampton Labour council to join the fight – along with the NEU, Unison and Unite unions – to oppose council cuts, using its reserves and borrowing powers, and mobilising support for the restoration of government funding stolen by the Tories since 2010.
If Blairite Labour councillors and candidates for May’s local elections refuse to do this, we will call on anti-cuts candidates to step forward and build the fightback.
Southampton Labour’s executive committee is controlled by Jeremy Corbyn supporters. But this position has not been used to clear out the Blairite councillors and adopt a fighting, anti-cuts strategy.
However, three Corbyn supporters have declared they will be council candidates in May and said they will oppose cuts. We will seek to collaborate with them to develop a no-cuts policy on the council.