Tamil Solidarity and Trade Union Solidarity – Martin Powell Davies

Martin Powell Davies
NUT National Executive

This evening, I was privileged to be able to attend the Tamil Solidarity Day held at the Day-Mer centre in Tottenham.

Day-Mer have a proud tradition of building links between the Turkish and Kurdish communities and the British trade union movement and Tamil Solidarity are working hard to build similar links from the Tamil community. For example, as well as campaigning to expose and publicise the genocide that took place at the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, they have produced an excellent leaflet explaining “Why you should join a Union” (see www.tamilsolidarity.org).

After enjoying excellent performances by Rani Moorthy and local musicians, I spoke at the closing rally, alongside speakers from UNISON, RMT, BFAWU, Tamil Solidarity, Socialist Party and Day-Mer.

Here’s some of what I had to say:

“Today has been a day to celebrate and exchange culture, ideas and international solidarity – but it’s also a day to expose the crimes inflicted by the rich and powerful on the poor and on minorities, particularly the Tamil-speaking peoples – and, a day to commit ourselves to work for a common struggle against poverty and oppression.

For anyone who teaches in London, then our working lives are about trying to help and educate youth coming from across the globe to this city.

It’s a job that gets more difficult every year as the resources to support students with English as a second language are cut, as class sizes and workload get ever greater, making it even harder to give individual students the support they need.

But that’s not just the case in Britain – it’s the same internationally. As the hopes of post-war economic expansion became replaced by capitalist downturn and crisis, Governments across the globe have looked to cut costs and privatise education, turning it into just another source of wealth for big business.

Teacher trade unions describe the attacks we face as the GERM – the ‘Global Education Reform Movement’. Internationally, we see schools forced to compete in an education market-place that creates winners and losers at your children’s expense. We see big business corporations take over privatised schools and boast of the billions of dollars they can generate in profits.

We also see political parties that, in the past, trade unions relied on to oppose the profiteers, turn instead into parties of big business. For example, look where Tristram Hunt, the Labour Party’s Education spokesperson gave his big speech to Labour Teachers this summer – at the HQ of the Microsoft Corporation in London!

What we see happening to education is just an example of a worldwide phenomenon – of globalised big business trying to increase its wealth and power at the expense of working people and the poor.

However, as they have been discussing at the NATO summit in Wales this week, they know that faltering capitalism means that they are finding it harder to keep their grip – see the mess they have created in Iraq and Ukraine for example.

That creates opportunities but also dangers – the danger of racism and communalism as the desperate look for more desperate solutions and turn on each other.

It can also create opportunities to defeat their attacks and win struggles – but only if we rely on our own strength, the strength of the unity of working people, to build from common misery into common struggle.

In communities and workplaces worldwide, campaigning trade unions are bringing people together to organise and unite in struggle (like the Hovis workers’ victory described by Ian from the BFAWU).

Thanks to Day-Mer, I was able to see first-hand Turkish workers battling against the Turkish riot police invading Gezi Park in Istanbul. I can also report that Norwegian teachers who I visited this spring have just won a victory after strike action at the start of this term.

Of course, trade unions are not perfect. In every organisation there will be debates and mistakes – and some of you will have heard that the NUT Executive voted yesterday not to join other trade unions on strike on October 14, a decision which I think was a mistake.

You will hear many making speeches about solidarity – but only some can be relied on to deliver that solidarity. I hope you will find that all of us on this platform can be relied on to do so!

In conclusion, if you are a teacher, join the NUT. If you are a parent, support your teachers in action, join us in our battle to defend education. If you are a Tamil student, as Rani explained in her performance, don’t be silent about your struggles and experiences – talk to your classmates, explain so that others can learn from you.

By joining communities together, as we are today, we can struggle together to win”.