9 thoughts on “Longest strike in British history, a century ago

  1. What a charming story. I’m glad to see this bit of history is being remembered. The strike was started by the children! What courage to take a stand at their age and in that era.


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  7. Monday 28th August 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    Trade unionists can learn valuable lessons in community solidarity from the longest strike in British history, writes CHRIS SMITH

    WHAT lessons does the longest strike in British history have for modern trade unionists, teachers and students? This question is particularly relevant in today’s world of the “gig economy” and business models in the digital sphere, amid falling union membership and all round general assaults on the principles of collectivism and solidarity.

    Burston teaches us that strikes are not the only thing that matters.

    This might seem a counter-intuitive starting point when it comes to celebrating the history of “the Burston Strike School,” but the greatest inspiration to be drawn from this historic event comes from examining how exactly the strike was maintained for 25 years.

    It wasn’t by burning socialist conviction or the waving of placards. It was achieved through strength of solidarity in the local community; this one struggle struck a chord with a deeply felt sense of injustice against many elements of life.

    Solidarity was created, nurtured and maintained by that most simple but elusive of phenomena: human relationships.

    And it is this focus on how to create those positive relationships across communities, networks and political divides that is where the Burston school can be of most inspiration to modern educators and trade unionists.

    It was the children and parents of Burston school who took strike action against their local education board — which was tied closely to the local church and landlords in a system reminiscent of the feudal system, as was the way of agrarian Norfolk in the early 1900s — in protest at the dismissal of local teacher Kitty Higdon by refusing to attend the local school and instead creating their own alternative school.

    This would never have happened if on the most basic and human level the people of Burston did not care for and have a connection with Kitty and her husband, as well as their fellow teacher at the same strike school, Tom.

    High political ideals and social theory come a very distant second to the potency and importance of a caring relationship with colleagues, neighbours and friends.

    For trade unions facing years of falling memberships, there is certainly a lesson in this.

    Talk to your colleagues about “the alienation of labour caused by an exploitative capitalist wealth extractor” and if you don’t receive a blank stare, send me a message explaining how you did it.

    Invite colleagues to the pub for a drink after work to blow off some steam and hopefully you will encounter a more enthusiastic response.

    The key then is turning words into action, of course, but take heart from knowing that small groups of determined people in rooms together are among those who have changed the world.

    We need to avoid the great trade unionist folly of preaching to the converted. Entire communities need to be engaged, not just the already engaged, if we want to change the world meaningfully.

    Teachers are a case in point here. The recent amalgamation of the NUT and ATL is an excellent and necessary development, but it will not meet its potential if we neglect our relationships with those outside our trade union family — in our specific case, those members who are currently categorised as “inactive.”

    Teachers possess an unrivalled position of trust within their communities and are respected by parents and students in a way that politicians and even other whitecollar professionals like journalists, bankers and lawyers can only envy.

    If we want to make sure that the education system we work in is preparing students for the wider world once they leave our care it is parents, children and communities we need to be talking to.

    So to all attending the Burston celebration this weekend (I assume all reading this will have dropped all other plans and be racing to Norfolk as soon as they put the paper down) here is where you come in.

    Invite people to come with you; especially that mate who you know will never vote Labour but can be sold on the virtue of a day in the country hearing bands, enjoying good company and serious conversation held along with quality local food and drink.

    If any event can inspire a respect for the virtue of collective endeavour and solidarity, it is the story of how children so attached to their teachers were willing to refuse to be taught by anybody else.

    To the organisers of the event: keep up the brilliant work and let’s make this year’s Burston Strike School Rally the biggest celebration to date — to remind everyone that “normal for Norfolk” is a radical history and a present that others should hope to emulate.

    Chris Smith is a member of the NUT’s young teachers national organising forum from Norwich. You can follow him on Twitter @chriswriteshere. For more information about the Burston Strike School Rally visit http://burstonstrikeschool.co.uk/rally2017.



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