Beyond Pay, Beyond the Classroom, the Educational Crisis is the Capitalist Crisis

Education Strikes

More than a Pay Dispute

On the 24th April approximately 400,000 public sector workers came out on strike, mainly teachers, lecturers, civil and public servants, angry at the government's pay policy which everyone knows is way below the real rate of inflation and therefore represents pay cuts. For schoolteachers it was the first strike in over twenty years.

No doubt the barrage of bad news for the economy is eroding the capacity of the government to maintain the confidence of the working class in the system and inevitably there will be further episodes of class struggle. There may even be an escalation of this strike movement as the unions are finding it harder to contain the anger of their members. These strikes, as well as that of the oil refinery workers at Grangemouth a week later, show that the capacity for determined workers to halt the economy remains intact. The downward trajectory of the economy can only serve as a detonator of that determined resistance to attacks on all fronts, pay, conditions, and pensions included.

The present article has the aim of setting out the perspective that the teachers' crisis goes beyond the simple framework of a pay dispute, that they need to clearly identify the root cause of their disillusion and become fully conscious of their situation. No-one is arguing that the pay cut (Ministers have announced a 2.45% rise for teachers in England and Wales this year, with further rises of 2.3% in 2009 and 2010.) does not represent a serious attack or that a struggle does not need to be fought. However, the struggle needs to escalate beyond the immediate catalyst and take into account the total situation.

Why have the teachers gone on strike for the first time in two decades when they have suffered worse pay cuts in the past? The answer lies in the totality of the "reform" of education which has made the teacher's job so unpleasant. It is here that we can see how the state controlled education system under capitalism can only be a means of oppression, a means of indoctrinating the young in the values that capitalist society requires. Today, as the material reality of capitalist society reveals itself under crisis conditions to be nothing but barbarism, the teacher becomes the pedlar of twaddle of the most reactionary nature, a little priest to the gods of a social arrangement in direct contradiction with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the children whose future appears ever bleaker.

Capitalism Gets the Educations System it Wants

To the extent that capitalism's decay and parasitism becomes ever more blatant, the young become ever more hostile, instinct fuelling their aggression, hostility, outrage, a manifestation of the barbarism that can only spread under capitalism. Damaged by the proletarian condition from the outset, it is small wonder that the wild fantasies of educational achievement leading to fulfilling lives fall onto so many deaf ears, that the daily grind of controlling this mass of children, now the product of the longest running crisis in capitalism's history, leaves teachers frustrated at the all too obvious chasm between the official representation and the reality of the educational process. The educational system of any society is always in some way a representation of the mode of production which creates it. This is absolutely true in New Labour Britain. The last two decades have seen a growing gulf between rich and poor. (1)

In the same way the education system has become polarised. The 5 "good GCSEs" at age 16 divides the educational attainers from the educational have nots. Get the 5 grade Cs and above and you are en route for university, fail to get them and you are heading for the dole. The collapse of manufacturing means that there are so few opportunities to get a worthwhile job with few academic qualifications that many working class kids can see the writing on the wall long before they are 16.

The government solution of eroding educational standards and presenting yearly improvements on exam results is an obvious evasion of the realities of the social crisis. Unable to tackle the problems of unemployment, poverty, alienation and class barriers which contribute to the disaffected mind set of young and old, the resort to announcing the perpetual good news is an inverse reflection of the reality of decline.

In the midst of this situation, teachers are called upon to transmit the official ideology to their captive audience. This may sound harsh to some, but how else could one describe recent initiatives like;

Schoolchildren should swear oaths of allegiance in a bid to tackle a "diminution in national pride", (2)

former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has said.

The peer insisted such measures were needed because Britain had become a more "divided country" with less sense of "belonging" over recent years. Not enough was currently being done in schools to encourage young people to take a constructive role in society, he said.

The recommendation for expanding citizenship ceremonies features in a wide-ranging review carried out by Lord Goldsmith for Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "I have looked with the aid of research at what the situation is," Lord Goldsmith told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. And it is not only the young who are on the receiving end of this state repression. Teachers themselves are constantly being moulded by a ideology which reduces them to the classic proletarian position, workers with no control over their own product.

Government influence in the classroom has increased significantly since 1997 with the development of a "state theory of learning", academics found. Children spend too much of their time preparing for "batteries of tests" in English and maths at the expense of a broader education in other important subjects, the research warned.The result is that educational standards may actually have fallen in recent years.

The reports formed part of the Cambridge University-based Primary Review, a major ongoing inquiry into primary education in England. And this state control over teachers is set to intensify in the future, beyond the stressful OFSTED visits, the production of mountains of paper work recording the teaching process and the perpetual "training".

The Real Fight

The fact is teachers, college lecturers, civil servants and every sector of the workforce must link their personal grievance with that of the totality of the social process. A process determined by its capitalist economic foundation, an economic foundation in decay, the motor of the social crisis which militates against any possibility of social progress. "Stand up for Education" was one of the slogans on the placards of demonstrators on the 24th, but what sort of education can capitalism offer? Capitalism offers only declining conditions for the overwhelming, working class majority, what are the chances this will translate into less stress in the classroom? No doubt resistance to the economic crisis will intensify and capitalism's forces of repression, including those of mental domination, will be mobilised to preserve the system, the ideological falsification of a repressive reality will only intensify in schools. Faced with the unfolding capitalist crisis, the only choice for those truly concerned with the welfare of the young, for those who refuse to carry the burden required to maintain the gross wealth of the rich, those who see how the very profit drive which cannot be removed from capitalist economy is the prime reason behind the plethora of evils arising all around, from war to environmental destruction, is to take a stand against capitalism. Outside of such a stance, there is no hope of anything but a descent into worsening conditions. Today the destruction of capitalism is the only progressive project; any struggle which does not challenge the capitalist boundaries is doomed. To take a stand against capitalism is not to demand improvements within it, though doubtless that will be the starting point for many struggles. To take a stance against capitalism is to join the struggle for a new society. This new society can only be communism. The failure of the previous attempts at communism means only a little more time for capitalism to scorch humanity with its many ills, but the death sentence pronounced by the revolutionaries of the past remains to be carried out.


(1) For the figures see Global Capitalism in Crisis: The More it Grows the More Unequal it Gets in Revolutionary Perspectives 42

(2) The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) voiced concern over how increased monitoring of lessons and pressure to get better exam results risks undermining the quality of education.

New school buildings are being fitted with cameras to make sure children can be caught if they misbehave, according to Julia Neal, president of the ATL.

Ms Neal, a history teacher from Torquay Girls' Grammar School in Devon, warned that the cameras could be used to keep an eye on teachers in future as well.

She predicted that by 2013, the Government's focus on test results and school league tables - combined with increased observation of lessons - could have "led to a world with Orwellian overtones".

It might be a far-fetched notion that Big Brother will be watching over schools in the next five years, but you only have to listen to what ATL delegates talk about this week to see the current reality of an over-measured, over-monitored education system [...] Teachers will talk about surveillance cameras in classrooms, about over-zealous observation of their teaching. [...] We will hear about teachers delivering a prescriptive curriculum and teaching to the tests in order to secure a good place in the league tables for their school. These issues all add up to an education system which focuses on targets and outcomes, and fails to meet individual pupils' needs despite the Government's pledge for personalisation.

We could add that, at least as far as the last paragraph is concerned, we have been there for some time already!

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