Friday, March 27, 2009

Help Iraq's Teachers Now

Labour Start has launched a major international campaign in defence of the Iraqi Teachers Union (ITU) who face the threat of being taken over by the government.

The teachers are demonstrating tomorrow in their thousands in Baghdad.

The matter is explained here by Abullah Muhsin, the British Representative of the ITU who has in the past addressed the North East Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party.

This matter was also raised earlier on this blog - see here.

Please click here now to send off a message of protest. Spread the word.


The Iraqi Teachers Union (ITU) held its second national protest on 28 March 2009 with over 500 protesters. The ITU protest attracted Iraqi media, and support from Iraqi trade unions and civil society organisations such as the Association of Political Prisoners (victims of former regime).The ITU protest carried the following slogans -
*Respect the Iraqi constitution.

*The ITU reject the Iraqi government interference in the internal affairs of the union and call on it to cease its undemocratic attempts to take control of the ITU.

*The union shall hold elections only under its internal rules and in the presence of judges

*Support civil society organisations. Allow them to do their job to strengthen democracy.

SEE MORE HERE FROM ERIC LEE, EDITOR OF LABOUR START AND ABDULLAH MUHSIN (ITU). Photo : Abdullah relaxes at last year's Conference held by Labour Start.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blathering To Some Purpose

The photo below is taken at the close of last night's discussion meeting. As our discussions then continue in the lounge bar afterwards, three people had already left to get their orders in. Dave Hill is behind the camera. The speaker was Geoff Bratley-Kendall who is centre-front with his arms crossed. We all felt that we had had an excellent and fruitful meeting discussing the problems being experienced in Adult Education.(Click onto the photo for a larger image).

Geoff's Kes Experience

Geoff set the scene by describing his own experiences. These resonated with his listeners as was revealed in the power of the subsequent debate.

When he was 14 he had what he called his "Kes experience". At school he was called in to discuss his future and he said that he would like to be an architect. The career advisor abruptly told him that he had only three options. (1) The armed forces, (2) Staveley Works and (3) the pit. As he had no military aspirations and did not like the smell that came from Staveley Works, he opted for work at the pit.

One saving grace was that in becoming an electrician at Markham No.2 pit, he gained vocational qualifications at Clowne Tech. The other was that with a group of his mates he became active in the NUM. It helped that they met in the Barley Mow pub.

Into Adult Education

Because of his NUM interests he moved on to attend a three-year Industrial Day Release Course for Derbyshire Miners run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department studying Industrial Relations and Political Economy, topped up with TUC and WEA week-end schools. As the provision moved to its close, the bulk of his day-release class showed an interest in moving from part-time study to full-time residential adult education. With two of his mates he embarked on a two year course at Coleg Harlech.

When the three went by car to the College in Wales, it was the longest journey he had then made in his life. The students and tutors were friends. Life was so uplifting that 40 years afterwards he still visits the College three times a year.

He then went to Hull University, which in comparison he felt was elitist and unsatisfactory. But after a stint back as a pit electrician, he moved into work as a Further Education (FE) Lecturer who taught adult education classes, eventually lecturing at Sheffield College for 21 years. When he retired, he returned to being an electrician. But not at the pit, which had in any case been closed.


He learnt that education does not have to happen at a particular time in one's life. He had seen the regular tapping of unknown talents. He saw the strength of educational provision which started out on a voluntary basis, where those studying did not have to be present if they weren't interested. He also knew he had to stay with Trade Unionism and he became an Executive Member of NATFHE.

Decline and Fall

He saw the decline of such forms of adult education as arising from the time of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Bill where the funding restrictions of the FE sector were spread to bodies such as Adult Education Colleges at Coleg Harlech, Ruskin, the Northern College, Fircroft, Hillcroft and Newbattle Abbey.

Unemployment, Student Loans, the Foster Report claiming that Colleges were not for older students, employer-led educational qualifications, education by the stepping stones of modules and certificates had all led to a loss of adult educational provisions. Some 2 million places in FE and Adult Education have been lost in England since 2005 and Age Concern point to a 24% cut in provisions for the over 60s.

What Is To Be Done?

Geoff is Secretary of the Coleg Harlech Association of Old Students (CHAOS) who have moved to form links with other student and ex-student organisations of Adult Education Colleges to seek to influence public policy on adult education.

He participated in the lobby of parliament organised by the Campaign for Lifelong Learning (CALL) on 25 February. Although CALL was only founded last summer it has gained the support of 150 organisations; numbers of whom can be found here. And it was able to mount a lobby which attracted 400 people including Marianne Quick the Secretary of the Dronfield Labour Party, who contributed to our discussions. As part of the campaign people are urged to get their MP to sign Early Day Motion 533.

The debate around Geoff's talk revealed a depth of interest and experience in his topic. To see where we go next, watch this space.

The debate continues...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Defending the Iraqi Teachers' Union

Sue Rogers (photo) who addressed a meeting of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group on the topic "Iraq: What's Happening?" has just issued the following statement from Erbil in Iraq where she is leading a TUC delegation. It condemns attempts by the Iraqi Government to seize control of the Iraqi Teachers Union (ITU).

'The Iraqi Government is acting like Saddam Hussein, treating unions as the property of the state. Iraqi trade unionists and teacher trade unions around the world are outraged at this latest attempt to seize control of our sister union.The Government has demanded that the union hand over the keys to its buildings, its membership lists, and is demanding that the existing leaders stand down or face jail sentences of three to seven years despite doing nothing wrong. This is a breach of fundamental human and trade union rights. The Iraqi Government must not be allowed to act in this dictatorial way.'

Sue Rogers is leading a TUC delegation at a workshop in Erbil, Iraq for trade union leaders from all over Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Yesterday Iraqi trade unions issued a joint statement of solidarity with the ITU, who have angered some in the Iraqi administration by securing substantial pay rises for teachers after a series of strikes and demonstrations last year.

The statement, signed by the leaders of the main Iraqi trade union confederation and the two Kurdish confederations, as well as the Kurdish Teachers Union and the powerful oil unions of Southern Iraq, appears below.

ITU President Jasim al-Lami, who has been invited to the NASUWT conference this April, was yesterday travelling back from the workshop to meet with Ministers in Baghdad. Mr al-Lami was jailed for six years in Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein and says he is ready to face jail again to defend his union.

Protests by global trade unions have already been lodged with the International Labour Organisation which last year censured Iraq for its anti-union laws, some of which have been left over from Saddam Hussein. The TUC has also written to Ministers in the UK.

Erbil Declaration of Solidarity with the Iraqi teachers' union

We, the leaders of the trade union movement throughout Iraq - including Iraqi Kurdistan - meeting with our international colleagues in Erbil, condemn the harassment and threats directed at the Iraqi Teachers' Union and their democratically-elected leaders.

This action is an attack on fundamental human rights and contrary to your Government's obligation to uphold the ILO core conventions, including Convention 87 on Freedom of Association.

We call on the Iraqi Government to respect the right of the Iraqi Teachers' Union to decide its own leadership in accordance with its own rules. We call on you to withdraw your threats to imprison Iraqi Teachers' Union leaders and to desist from your attempts to seize the assets, membership lists and documentation of the Iraqi Teachers' Union.

We reject your attempt to seize the union and express our solidarity with the membership and leadership of the Iraqi Teachers' Union.

Failure to respond positively can only result in a major campaign - across Iraq and around the world - to highlight your Government's appalling action.

We are copying this letter to the President and Prime Minister of Iraq and making it public.

Signed by

General Federation of Iraqi Workers

Kurdistan Workers Union

General Workers and Crafts Syndicate Union of Kurdistan

Kurdistan Journalists Union/Iraq

Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions

Kurdistan Teachers Union/Iraq

Protest against the actions of the Iraqi Goverenment can be made to the Iraqi Embassy via this link.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


This is a photo of Natascha Engel MP and Geoff Bratley-Kendall at the Commons. They are in the corridors of power - or more precisely a Commons' Committee Corridor.

Geoff is the Secretary of the Coleg Harlech Association of Old Students (CHAOS) and Natascha is his local MP. She is also the local MP for Dronfield, where we blather.

Geoff will be at the next meeting of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group, giving a talk entitled "Adult Education: Experience and Issues". The photo was taken last Wednesday when the "Campaigning Alliance For Lifelong Learning" organised an important lobby of parliament to press the case for Adult Education and to reverse the trend which has seen many of its best services cut. 400 to 500 took part in the lobby, as is shown here. The lobby itself and other campaigning activities will be discussed at our meeting.

Here is a further report on the lobby from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).

Natascha Engel has herself addressed our Discussion Group on"Pension : Problems and Policies" and is regularly informed about our activities. We will send her a link to our report of the meeting with Geoff, which we will publish next week.