An open letter to parents and school staff from a local teacher

We're publishing here a letter to parents and school staff that we received from a local teacher.

Protests by college and school students on November 24th and 30th were an exuberant festival of disorder. Young people threw down a challenge to adults facing threats to our livelihoods from the all-party cuts currently starting to kick in. Students as young as twelve got out on the streets, stepping out of their allotted roles and creating a vibrant, positive response to the vicious attacks that their generation are facing. At one Brighton school over 550 pupils walked out - a third of the total school population - as well as hundreds from other Brighton schools and Lewes Priory.

So why did so many take part? If you listened to conversations in the staff room from teachers you’d think it was just an excuse to bunk off, with pupils not really understanding the issues involved. Some teachers condemned those who knew nothing of the details of the education cuts but still walked out anyway. But this misses the point. Working for more than a decade as a teacher, I have learnt to listen to young people because of their freedom to think what is often unthinkable to adults. After months of talk about so-called inevitable cuts, with the resulting fear that this creates, they don’t need to know the full detail to know that working class families are being made to suffer most from the process. That is what they were responding to during the walkouts and because of that I am proud of my students that joined in.

But what about the ‘violence’? Many have commented that they would have respected the protests more if they had been peaceful… as if ‘speaking Truth to Power’ in an orderly A to B march would have had a better result. But power doesn’t respond to reasoned arguments if they go against its interests. What those in power do take notice of, however, is people not obeying the rules - and the rules say that school children should go to school, students should attend their courses and workers should get on with their work.

The government has made its decisions. Billions of pounds worth of cuts have been agreed. But until they are implemented it is all just a lot of hot air and aspiration from the Chancellor. Despite the myths, even Thatcher couldn’t cut back as much as this government is trying to do, because she came up against the opposition of working class people - miners, dockworkers, print workers and just about everyone who refused to pay the poll tax. Thousands suffered real hardship to defend the jobs and services that were rightfully theirs. This government, on the other hand, congratulates itself on its tough decisions as if it is a done deal.

But this is where the challenge lies. Of course school children and students have less to lose by going on a protest in the middle of a school or college day than workers who go on strike. In these times of redundancies, pay freezes and cost-cutting it is understandable that people will want to keep their heads down and get on. But adults need to join in the process of resisting these cuts started by the young if we are to defend ourselves. We can refuse to implement these cuts. We could oppose all redundancies because the logic of the cuts is flawed and nothing to do with our needs. There is no such thing as the ‘national interest,’ only class interests - something our ‘leaders’ are well aware of and clearly demonstrate in their leniency with tax-dodging corporations like Vodafone and Top Shop and their generosity to the banks. We could refuse to take on extra work when people have been laid off and we are expected to do more. We could withdraw all goodwill from our employers until our pay is unfrozen and restored to levels that keep up with inflation.

In order to do any of this we need to start talking to each other about it. Talk to your co-workers. If you are in a union, call a meeting in your workplace. Put pressure on your union to be in official dispute. The angry response of young people has raised the stakes. Maybe it’s time their parents, teachers and other workers joined them in the fight back.

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This article was published on 7 December 2010 by the SolFed group in Brighton. Other recent articles: