IN CONVERSATION :  ANNE, AT THE PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY AGAINST AUSTERITY, BRISTOL

092 SW Bristol PAAA Part One main stage

A section of the crowd facing the podium on College Green.

AUDIO Coming soon

Anne Lemon speaks to me at the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Bristol


TRANSCRIPT

AL : My name is Anne Lemon. I’m the Executive Member for the NUT for this region.

JO : the NUT is …. ?

AL : is the National Union of Teachers, but now we have amalgamated with the ATL, so actually we’re now called the National Education Union, which has made us a much bigger, much broader union.

JO: was that the old … was that a lecturers’ union ?

AL: no … the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, but mainly it’s in schools.

JO: ok

AL: … the thing about it is that that organisation does recruit non-teaching staff, so it now means the new Education Union will include teaching and non-teaching staff, which will make us much stronger in the workplace.

JO: ok

AL: so when we take action, we’ll be a much bigger force .. to be able to confront …

JO: Shall we talk about education and the possibilities and the potential that the union has? How is union penetration? Let’s start there. What’s been … is the trend upward?

AL: yes, yes … we’re continuing to recruit … I mean … the thing about the teaching profession is it’s 98% unionised. It’s one of the biggest, unionised professions there is.

JO: … and I’m bound to say teachers are a very important component of the whole picture …

AL: … a very important resource … but what’s happened in the city, in Bristol, in particular, is when the government introduced what they called fair funding – and by no means was it fair funding – the Bristol schools were hit the worst of all schools across the country. So, we saw primary schools threatened with losing up to £400,000 by 2019.

JO: Is that out of an annual budget?

AL: out of an annual budget, yes

JO: and what sort of consequences … is it easy to say what …

AL: well the consequence of that … obviously the biggest cost in a school is the cost of staff … so, you’re bound to see an increase in class sizes. You’re seeing a reduction in teaching staff, so they’re getting rid of subjects like art … it’s one that classically been cut. Textiles has just been cut from the National Curriculum. GCSE Textiles has just disappeared. They want to have a much narrower curriculum. And that is, of course, in state schools. The private schools will still have a much broader and richer curriculum. So, we’re fighting very hard to try to defend the curriculum for our children. And if I just say a little bit …

JO: what percentage of children are still going through the state system?

AL: I don’t know off the top of my head …

JO: it’s large, isn’t it?

AL: A lot of people. It’s probably 90%.

JO: the great majority …

AL: the vast majority.

JO: So, what we’re talking about is a movement towards … if we’re not careful … towards a sort of rump education for the vast majority …

AL: yes .. a narrow education for the vast majority … and then, if the Tories … which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do now … wanted to have Grammar Schools as that was all part of creating an elite again. So you’d have an elite at the top and all of the people at the bottom, basically being given basic skills. So that’s the thing … a victory that we won .. .as a result of the Corbyn … of the amount of people that voted for Jeremy Corbyn. … they weren’t able to bring in Grammar Schools.

JO: Are you buoyed by what’s happening there?

AL: I’m very buoyed by it. I’m not a member of the Labour Party. I’m a member of the Socialist Workers Party. But I’m very buoyed by what’s happened with Jeremy Corbyn and the response to real socialist politics. Once, I think we’ve seen, people have been given a real alternative, they choose it. Unfortunately, under previous Labour governments, there was no left alternative. It was just another shade of conservatism.

JO: I mean I’m not … in the sense I am not a Labour Party member either, I actually chose to join the Greens in the end …

AL: yes

JO: as I thought they were outflanking Labour on the economy and on social issues, let alone on ecological issues … so I’m worrying that a lot of people might think just voting Labour is enough when actually the Labour Party has historically always been a rather mixed bag.

AL: It is a mixed bag … definitely what people have voted for is the left of that mixed bag ….

JO: yes

AL: … and therefore they’ve not been able to pull back on any of those gains.

JO: Do you feel that party structure can be … the people in the different positions and the structure itself can be improved?

AL: oh I am sure … more democratic … it needs to be much more pulled from the bottom up. Those people who are the like the sort of great lords of the Labour Party need to have a lot less control of the Labour Party …

JO: and who are we talking about here … in particular? Institutionally …

AL: Tony Blair. The people in the hierarchy of the Labour Party.

JO: The hierarchy is what …. the National Executive …

AL: I think historically it’s even people who are not in parliament. I think there’s still a whole structure around the Labour Party that still very much tries to control it. What’s happened is that because the Momentum movement has been from the grassroots up, they haven’t had that same level of control.

JO: that’s a large membership organisation, yes?

AL: a very large membership organisation.

JO: ok … and you ought to tell me a little bit about why the Socialist Worker. I have to tell you as someone who has been to maybe 10 or 20 big protest events in his life, they always seem to pull a fast one in terms of being the most visible …

AL: well that’s because we are rooted in building these movements … we don’t just come in and put our stalls up …

JO: you’ve definitely mastered that sort of skill set …

AL: I think it’s really, really important that you get your message out there and be very clear … you can completely support what’s happening here today ….

JO: when did you get into the …

AL: oh a long, long time… 20 or 25 years ago ..

JO: and what was it that attracted you to that in the first instance?

AL: well, initially for me, it was Irish politics. It was during the hunger strikes and I saw the fact that the British state would not in any way concede to, and allow people to die

JO: Bobby Sands etc

AL: exactly .. and then, more and more, I began to see that I don’t think parliament and the people who have power over society would give it up very easily. So, I think if Jeremy Corbyn did get elected on a left slate, I think we’d see a run on the pound. We’d see them doing everything possible to stop him from implementing the policies he has put forward.

JO: yes

AL: So, I think whilst you support left movements like that, there needs to be something bigger. There has to be a real movement that can cause that change, and I think that’s a revolutionary change.

JO: well, I would agree that you need the extra-electoral structures and pressure but I am not entirely sure about revolution. I’m considering it as part of this thing .. I am trying to work out what I think needs to be done … but just turning the attention towards today in particular, what’s going on here, and what’s the aim of this day do you think?

AL: The Tory government have implemented massive cuts across the country on councils, and the councils have implemented those cuts, and in Bristol we’ve seen an absolutely huge £9bn worth of cuts, and it’s decimating things like social services … half the libraries are up for closure …

JO: so what’s the …. is it central government policy that’s now affecting the local authority budgets …

AL: that’s right … it’s affecting local authority budgets …

JO: but I’ve noticed quite a lot of signs already pointing the finger at the Labour Mayor. Is that because it’s being implemented at the local level?

AL: I think the argument is … I don’t think anybody … nobody … well they’re an idiot if they do … thinks that Marvin Rees got elected and wanted to carry out cuts. He doesn’t want to carry out cuts, but his position is that he’s got no alternative … that you either implement the cuts because you have to or you go bust …. the city goes bust … and actually I think there is an alternative and we’ve actually got a little petition today …

JO: he’s saying “I don’t want to do this but …”

AL: but what we’re saying is what we have to do is be really brave and actually say “we’ve got 4 Labour MPs in this area, we’ve got a Labour council,a Labour Mayor”

JO: it’s clearly a Labour stronghold, isn’t it?

AL: that’s right … and we say “we are not going to implement these cuts”. And we tried to do exactly the same … he’s … I think very well … meeting other councils across the country to try and get that movement going. That’s what we want to push. That’s what we want to see out of today… is the way forward … is to say “No! Enough is enough. These cuts just cannot be implemented.” We just have to say “No! We’re not going to do it”.

JO: So, I suppose, in a way, you could say this is helping him, if he does want not to do it ..

AL: … exactly. If it’s a big demonstration, it gives him the ammunition to be able to say “people in Bristol are completely against this” …

JO: … “I can’t do this. It’ll kick off.”

AL: that’s why it’s really important we get a really big turnout.

JO: … what else … what else … it is .. I was expecting 10,000 plus …

AL: that’s what I’m hoping …

JO: Do you think it’s enough in itself, demonstrations? It’s great, isn’t it?

AL: they’ve got to be followed up … They can’t just come out.

JO: Are there some specific things that the unions might do?

AL: well, unions have always got, of course, to be able to take strike action … if, for example, the library closures .. and getting local communities involved in it … and I think that’s the responsibility not just of union leaders at the top but union groups getting together and trying to push that …

JO: local branches …

AL: that’s right, yes … Certainly in the NUT, we’re faced with big cuts in schools. We can take strike action at a local level … on an individual … and we have done … and we have won quite a lot of them. They threatened to get rid of support staff and we’ve taken strike action and it has been reversed. So it is possible to win that but you have to create a mood amongst people that they can cause change. And that’s why …

JO: I think that’s one of the values of a day like today …

AL: that’s the value of today is that you have so many people together that it can actually cause amazing change … and you give people confidence …

JO: you can kind of feel a certain spirit when you come to these sorts of things …

AL: it gives people that sense of confidence, you know. … Good to see you! Brilliant. It’s my neighbour.

JO: Hi team.

AL: Fantastic. Excellent. I’ll see you.

JO: that’s really, really good. Terrific.

AL: is that alright?

JO: thanks very much for your time.


contents | next