Parent and pupil power in Edinburgh

Sorry about the name of this post, it’s a bit too alliterative

I got wind of this victory the other day from a furry friend, and it has made this week’s Socialist Worker.

Edinburgh schools campaign forces SNP retreat
by Terry Wrigley

A vigorous campaign by parents and pupils has put a stop to Edinburgh city council’s proposal to close one in six schools.

Within three weeks of announcing the plans, Scottish National Party (SNP) councillors, who run the council in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, have been driven to withdraw their support.

This is a fantastic victory and shows the importance of mass campaigns. It was achieved despite the council’s attempt to gag teachers and other employees.

Men and women who, in their own words, had “just been picking up the kids from the school gate a week ago” have shown unprecedented creativity and leadership.

It is hard to remember such a rapid and energetic grassroots campaign. Seven days after the plan was announced, parents and high school students joined council workers in the Unison union striking against job cuts in a mass demonstration outside the City Chambers.

Campaign groups were immediately set up in many schools, and school students established a city-wide network. Parents have held meetings in many of the 22 nursery, primary and secondary schools due to close.

The closures were a massive attack on the quality of education in the city.

They would have had a particularly damaging impact on some of Edinburgh’s poorest neighbourhoods, and closed the high school with the highest proportion of ethnic minority pupils.

Pupils went on strike at four primary schools, Bonnington, Lismore, Craigentinny and Drumbrae, with full support from their parents.

About 70 parents and pupils turned out to the protest at Bonnington, with plenty of hand-made posters.

The vocal and colourful protest attracted lots of support from passing cars, vans and lorries.

Parents insisted that the council’s numbers just didn’t add up.

There isn’t enough space in the schools expected to receive their pupils, and class sizes would stick at 30 or more.

This is a clear breach of the new SNP government’s promise of class sizes of 18.

Organised

A good example of the campaign is Abbeyhill primary school. On Tuesday of last week, parents and pupils gathered on the front steps as lessons finished.

A noisy but well organised chorus chanted support for the school and demanded that it stay open. Parents held a meeting two days later, at which councillors were called to account.

The councillors were clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable.

Parents refused to accept their plea that they were just doing what the education officers advised – they insisted councillors must accept responsibility or call a halt to the cuts.

One parent shouted, “You’re like a nodding dog in the back of a Volvo!”

Abbeyhill is a popular school and almost full, but the council said it must close because many pupils come from outside the “catchment area”.

This is an artificial line, drawn only 50 yards from the school gate.

Parents are sure the real reason for the proposed closure is to sell the land – a prime site for new housing, very close to the Scottish Parliament.

Already teachers at two schools spotted council surveyors measuring up the grounds.

Campaigners received immediate support and solidarity from parents at Leith Walk, the school that was supposed to absorb Abbeyhill children.

Leith Walk would have had to lose its nursery and after-school club, and have children taught in temporary classrooms without toilets.

Abbeyhill has a swimming pool and a playing field, but Leith Walk is on a very cramped site. The meeting discussed the environmental impact of parents ferrying children to school. Parents have done their research well.

A lot of new housing is being built, which will increase pupil numbers, but one campaign group discovered that the council wasn’t counting two-bedroom flats.

Research

Housing is nearly as expensive in Edinburgh as London, so it’s ridiculous to imagine that no children live in two-bedroom flats.

The campaign was supported by education lecturers at Edinburgh university, who were able to publicly refute the claim that large schools are better.

The director of children’s services argued research shows that primary schools should be above 400, and secondary over 900 pupils.

The SNP’s education spokesperson finally agreed that the research was “not robust”, and that the closure plans were not compatible with their commitment to reduce class sizes to 18.

This is a victory not only for Edinburgh but for schools across Scotland and beyond.

Despite falling rolls, class sizes in Scotland have been stuck at around 30 since the 1970s.

The newly elected SNP government has promised to reduce them to 18 in the first three years of primary school, starting with the most disadvantaged areas.

The people of Edinburgh are determined this must happen. It is time they were joined by teachers, parents and students across Britain.

PS: Surprise, surprise! First Minister Alex Salmond has backed the decision to rethink the programme of closures.

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Begging bowl capitalism at Metronet

Day two of the strike. Here’s the take of Socialist Appeal

Metronet: A bad case of Begging bowl capitalism
By Mick Brooks and Dan Morley
Tuesday, 04 September 2007

The collapse of Metronet , the consortium entrusted with upgrading the tube, spells the collapse of the whole notion of ‘Public Private Partnership’, otherwise known as the Private Finance Initiative.

Metronet (corporate motto ‘Hallelujah, I’m a bum’) is a consortium with a £17 billion contract to upgrade most of the system. They have come back with the begging bowl claiming costs have overrun. They wanted £551 million more (for the time being), they were ‘only’ offered £121 million. So they’ve gone belly up, leaving the underground in a pickle. They are also leaving us a little present of £2 billion debt.

How did they get the job in the first place?

New Labour insisted the private sector get involved. They have an ideological belief that private is better than public. Their misguided ideology is in danger of costing us all £2 billion.

The government case for PPP is as follows:

  • We haven’t got the money. The private sector will be able to raise it on the money markets.
  • The private sector is more efficient than public provision. They will deliver at the price and on time.
  • Why are they efficient? Because they compete with one another. Because their managers are skilled entrepreneurs.
  • The private sector will take all the risks. We can just sit back and let them get on with it.
  • The Metronet collapse shows:

  • It’s always our money that pays for infrastructure in the end. Does Gordon Brown think they just wave a magic wand at the money markets? We will have to pay the borrowing back – with interest.
  • Metronet are greedy parasites, forever begging for government handouts. In the consortium are the usual suspects including Balfour Beatty – the firm in charge of rail maintenance whose negligence led to a train derailment at Hatfield in which four people died. Do they sound like the right people for the job?
  • Another firm involved in the consortium is Thames Water. What do they know about running a railway? Come to that, what do they know about running a water supply? At Thames Water one gallon in three still leaks out of the system. They don’t care about the waste – they just charge us more.
  • They don’t compete with each other. They are given a monopoly over the renovation of certain lines. How could it be done any other way? Competition could not possibly work. The whole point about the tube is that it needs to be an integrated system
  • So Metronet got the maintenance contract. Who did they dish the work out to? They subcontracted it to Balfour Beatty, to Thames Water…to themselves. Competition indeed!
  • In the end we take all the risk. A couple of weeks ago some tarpaulin fell down on the Central Line and trapped a train in the tunnel for a couple of hours, a nasty experience for the passengers, and risky. What was the tarpaulin doing there in the first place? Then the District Line had to be closed because a tree fell on the track near Earls Court. Metronet had been warned about it. Laurel and Hardy show more entrepreneurial skill than this shower!
  • Now we’re facing the risk of stumping up to pay for Metronet’s incompetence. Even Gordon Brown knows we have to have a functioning public transport system in London. Metronet can walk away from the train crash, but we’ll have to sort out the mess somehow.
  • It now appears that Metronet want to dump the consequences of their failings onto the workers, by cutting jobs. So the very people upon whose labour the Tube relies should be sacked, in Metronet’s eyes, to solve the problem. Thus the profits of Metronet come before the functioning of the Tube, an essential public service. This is the logic of the PPP scheme.

    However, the Tube workers have shown they know what is really best for public services by taking industrial action. On August 20th, members of RMT, TSSA and Unite voted by 1,369 to 70 for strike action to defend jobs. RMT leader Bob Crow said “The work our members do is crucial not only to the day-to-day operation of the Tube but to the urgent upgrades that are slipping further behind schedule, and any further fragmentation of the workforce is out of the question. If we want a world class Tube…the only sensible answer is to bring the work back into the Public Sector.”

    Only the militant action of workers can fight the PPP scheme and deliver the public services we need.

    NO TO BACKDOOR PRIVATISATION!
    RE-NATIONALISE THE TUBE!
    SUPPORT THE STRIKING WORKERS!