We tried playing by their rules, now it’s time for something different

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Yesterday I joined firefighters in their fight for pension justice as they descended upon Westminster and then Downing Street, demanding answers to the question on how MPs can mislead the House of Commons with impunity, but not everyone was happy with their actions.

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I offered the police officer in these pictures a sponge to clean up politics. Cleaning up politics is not just about Ministers misleading the house over pension regulations, it is about MPs voting on debates that affect our lives without mandates from their constituents or voting how their party whip tells them too and not having even heard the arguments, it’s also about historical acts of lying such as when the Prime Minister lied to the House of Commons about weapons of mass destruction, resulting in almost 500 dead UK service personnel and hundreds more injured. We have serious problems with our political system, this can’t be as good as it gets.

The police officer here said he didn’t want the sponge, I told him that the government were after his pension too, which he agreed but he said that there were “ways of doing things and that this wasn’t it.” I informed him that firefighters had tried that and been sold out, so now they were taking to the streets.

Cleaning up PoliticsFBU Cleaning Crew Cromwell

With a political system that is designed to serve and protect itself, people are being left with no choice but to take things into their own hands and head to the streets. Civil disobedience and economic withdrawal have been pillars of change throughout our history, we are likely to see more of this if things continue on the path we are on.

To the man who said: “there are ways of doing things and this isn’t it.” I say this is the only way things have ever changed.

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London Lockdown – firefighters 24hr strike

Yesterday, thousands of firefighters brought London to a stand still as they descended on Westminster in anger at changes to their pension arrangements, during a 24 hour strike called by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

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Fire Minister, Penny Mordaunt and the Government stand accused of deliberately misleading MPs in the House of Commons during a debate that took place on December 15th 2014. During the debate the Minister for fire stated six times that firefighters would be guaranteed their pension in the event that they failed to maintain fitness due to the natural aging process. This was further supported by comments made by DCLG Secretary, Eric Pickles, who made the same guarantees. These alleged guarantees came after the Ministers were informed BEFORE the debate took place by the fire service employers that legal advice showed there was no guarantee in the current regulation wording.

Following several weeks of lobbying, firefighters had too confirmed that the guarantee assured in the House of Commons was not as resolute as claimed and that many firefighters (between 66% and 92% from age 55-60) face a very real risk of having no job and no pension, just for aging.

Members of the FBU had earlier been at a rally in Westminster Methodist Hall and upon exiting, took to the streets and marched on Westminster, demanding that David Cameron answer for the potential misleading of parliament. The FBU had written three times calling for answers but to no avail. They then headed to Downing Street and made their feelings heard.

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There was much anger on the streets, firefighters said they had made every attempt to follow due process with an Early Day Motion -454 (supported by the Labour Party) laid against the pension regulations submitted in late 2014 but now felt they were left no choice but to take to the streets. There was a significant show of anger and frustration, one firefighter stopped to tell me that they no longer felt they had a voice and that they could no longer trust politicians to do the right thing after so much effort was expended during the lobbying phase of EDM 454, only for it to be undone by half-truths and deception.

The message of the day was clear; they are not going away, they will be back.

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Standing up for education, the struggle continues

TEACHERS from the NUT went on strike again on March 26th in a bid to raise awareness and build opposition to the attacks on education that they say are damaging to our children’s future. The man directly responsible for negotiations is Michael Gove.

Michael Gove

But who is Michael Gove?

A recent article by the Financial Times (FT) described him as a man who “lauded Tony Blair as ‘the master’ also praising Blair’s attempt to export New Democracy to the Middle East. Here is a man the FT says draws inspiration not just from Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama but also Vladimir Lenin and Malcolm X, with portraits of the former adorning his office. Quite how he thinks hanging a picture of Malcolm X on his wall makes him any more accessible or acceptable to the people whose educational future he is dismantling is beyond me. He also claims (with some justification) that the Cameron government is top heavy with people from one school, Eton, and is his justification for the changes in education he claims will open up the talent pool to ensure effectively that the glass ceiling for state schools is removed and that the top jobs will be open to us all.

Gove has formed the focus for much of the teachers anger, in much the same mould as Jeremy Hunt has for the NHS or Brandon Lewis for the firefighters recent pension dispute, but these individuals are in the main just the messengers. They are the people who will claim in the future, when the dust has settled on the ruins of our beloved services, that they were “just following orders”. They should be reminded that people of good conscience do not blindly follow orders but then we may be expecting too much from individuals who may have bought into the idea that greed is good and of self-interest.

A brighter light needs to be shone on the corporations who stand to make billions in profit from the fire sale of our public services, such as that of the recent debacle of the Royal Mail which prompted Ed Miliband to call David Cameron not the Wolf of Wall Street but rather the Dunce of Downing Street. All very funny but there is potentially a very serious case of fraud attached to the stench of the sale of the Royal Mail. Instead of scoring cheap jokes at the expense of Cameron, perhaps Miliband and the Labour Party ought to be calling for open and transparent enquiries into the privatisation of our services, identifying who benefitted and by how much, focusing on those people with direct ties to our elected politicians. In this way we can stop focusing our attentions on the party scapegoats and get to the root causes of the problems in our self-proclaimed democratic society.

The NUT strike was well received, despite one-sided media attention as virtually every major mainstream news website reporting the strike as a disruption to children’s education, rather than focusing on the key issues our teachers face. There was a well attend demo and march in London and various local events across the country.

Teaching is one of the most important jobs someone can have, teachers are tasked with developing the people who will shape our future and we should aspire to have the best terms, conditions and working environments from which they can flourish and so too our children. The key being them being allowed to teach our children how to think and not what to think. Much has been made in the media about their concerns on pensions and pay but every teacher we have spoken to focuses first on how the government’s changes will affect our children, how they face being tested to failure and brow beaten by exams and their own personal plight second.

The struggles faced by teachers are one faced by us all and only by facing it together can we hope to make a change for the better, that is why we at NNI stand with our teachers, standing up for education.