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Is there life outside Labour?

In our continuing series on left strategy, Chris Nineham from Counterfire responds to Laura Smith and John...

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Counterfire is a socialist organisation committed to building the biggest possible movements against a system that is creating more and more crisis and misery.

Whether or not we get real change depends on wider struggles in society, it depends on mass movements, popular protests and on workers taking action.

We believe that this kind of popular opposition requires a dynamic extra-parliamentary left, rooted in workplaces, communities and colleges.

We also believe that these struggles are connected. Racism, sexism and all oppressions are a product of a society based on the exploitation of workpeople by a tiny minority of capitalists.

War, climate change and inequality are all symptoms of a chaotic system based on competition for profits.

In the process of helping to build resistance, Counterfire puts the case for a revolutionary socialism that ultimately seeks popular control of society and genuine liberation for all.

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Our members are actively involved in the protest movements and workers struggles around the country, and we are organising local Counterfire groups - currently online - to help build solidarity with struggles and popularise socialist ideas and analysis.

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Trotsky in the Bronze Age

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Socialist Explainers

Far from improving schools, the education secretary is trying to divide teachers and make the education system more viable for private sector providers, writes Martin Copson

Gove's vision for education?

Performance related pay is the latest in a succession of controversial attacks on the teaching profession and on the principle of progressive, comprehensive education. Michael Gove has made it clear that he sees the teacher trade unions as a barrier to his vision of elitism and fragmentation of the education system, and is actively promoting ‘union alternatives’. In a Sunday Times interview Gove came out and said that he is putting the department for education on a war footing, a clear gauntlet thrown down to the unions that there will be a battle for the future of our education system.

Performance related pay will mean that maximum and minimum salary points will remain in place (in both the main scale and upper pay spine), but annual incremental pay rises will be replaced by individual pay rises decided by the headteacher.

Education factories

The effect of this will be to introduce distrust, competition and envy into a profession that currently works collaboratively in the interest of the children and young people it serves. Head teachers will be pitted against classroom teachers and teachers will be competing against each other to meet whichever arbitrary targets their pay rise is dependent upon.

If a teacher’s pay rise is set against pupils achieving a percentage of GCSE A-C grades the natural response would be for the teacher to focus even more resources on GCSE students at the C/D boarderline (as is already the case due to the importance placed upon league tables). This will increase the already widespread feeling that teachers are not trusted to use their professional judgement and that schools are increasingly feeling like education factories whose aim is to meet the latest targets.

Gove’s argument that performance related pay will allow schools to reward the best teachers is a red herring, as there already are mechanisms in place to reward high performing teachers. Paying ‘the best teachers’ more will mean that their colleagues will have to lose out (the budget will not increase to allow for having a school full of ‘excellent teachers’). In a period of budget cuts this will inevitably mean low pay rises or pay freezes for most teachers.

Business friendly education

This is not an argument about ensuring that teachers are properly remunerated, but yet another attempt to divide teachers, to attack their unions and to make the education system more viable for private sector providers (lower employment costs = more business friendly).

Michael Gove is keen to justify his vision of education in a theoretical and pedagogical way. For unions and education campaigners to effectively challenge these attacks we need an inclusive campaign which can articulate an alternative vision of education as being at the heart of the process through which we collectively build a better world. An ideological attack must be met by an ideological response, syndicalism will not win this battle.

Counterfire contributors have been actively involved in this discussion and there have also been some excellent articles from Howard Stevenson and Michael Rosen as well as Melissa Benn’s excellent articles and book School Wars. We need to build a united campaign that can engage educators, young people, academics and trade unions in the fight for a better education system.