Mark Serwotka on mass strikes, privileged Tories and Arthur Scargill

A sneak preview of my interview with the Public and Commercial Services Union leader in this week's

This week's New Statesman includes an interview with Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and one of the brains behind the mass strike scheduled for 30 June. The PCS will be joining three teachers' unions in staging a co-ordinated walkout, shutting down schools and government offices in the process, in protest over pension reforms, pay freezes and job losses.

Serwotka tells me that the Conservative-led coalition government is waging "class warfare" against public-sector workers and believes coalition ministers are indifferent to the fate of his members:

I don't think they give a shit," he says. "People who have lived in a bubble of privilege all their lives have no concept of what ordinary life is like."

The PCS leader warns that strikes by public-sector workers could "possibly" continue over the course of this parliament. Does he have a bottom line?

No one should have to pay any extra money unless their pension scheme valuation deems it necessary; there should be no central increase in the pension age and the government should be prepared to negotiate the inflation-indexing of pensions." But Serwotka doesn't believe that coalition ministers are interested in negotiations.

He says that, without strikes, the chances of the unions' negotiations with the government being successful are "nil". He also says he admires Arthur Scargill: .

"I admire a lot of what Scargill did," he says. "I don't share his politics but I admire the bravery of the National Union of Mineworkers leadership and I have no doubt that they were right to do what they did."

But they lost, I point out. "I don't take the view that we can't win," Serwotka insists.

Read the full interview in this week's NS, out on the news-stands tomorrow.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Tuition fees uphold socialist principles - the left should support them

The amount of disadvantaged students applying for university between 2005 and 2015 went up 72 per cent in England, which was bigger than all other countries within the UK, including Scotland.

Since their introduction under the Blair Government, tuition fees have been a contentious issue amongst the British left. Under the leadership of Ed Miliband, Labour adopted a compromise position of reducing tuition fees – a seemingly inoffensive concession from his original position supporting free education within higher education.

Whilst they may appearing to promote educational inequality, research has shown that tuition fees have actually had the opposite effect within education. Political Scientist Martin Robbins wrote in the Guardian that “in 2015, application rates of 18 year olds living in disadvantaged areas in all countries of the UK increased to the highest levels recorded”. Though it is unlikely that the increase of fees and their reinvestment within education would have had a large effect on that crop of students, it does demonstrate that tuition fees are not the educational barrier some present them to be.

In fact, the amount of disadvantaged students applying for university between 2005 and 2015 went up 72 per cent in England, which was bigger than all other countries within the UK, including Scotland.

The largest drop-off between the least and most deprived children within educational attainment is between the ages of three and fourteen. Despite this, the higher education budget is around double that of pre-school education, which is where the inequality of education begins to kick in. A more adept way of solving the inequality within education would be a tuition fees system where a set percentage of a student’s fee is retained by their university, and a set percentage put towards pre-school education, to set the taxation of education into a progressive context.

In the latest government White Paper on tuition fees, the Universities Minister Jo Johnson lays out the idea of a teaching excellence framework (TEF). In theory, this is not problematic. Rather than raise the chargeable rate of fees (as done in 2012) the TEF would allow universities to tax above the chargeable rate on account of good teaching. This would mean for the vast majority of university students, rates would be unchanged. However, as tuition fees are currently at the chargeable rate of £9,000, the policy within the current climate is too objectionable.

Jo Johnson’s TEF model is an example of a reasonable concept which would be ineffective in practice, due to the difficulty in ranking the quality of teaching at the point of use, rather than through the means of a policy such as a graduate tax, based off earnings. If the British left championed a version of the TEF with a lower base rate, or instead just a graduate tax, it would mean Labour would be able to once again control the narrative with a sensible but redistributive policy on education. This would not only regain Labour credibility amongst the electorate on financial matters, but could be used as a base to build on, as a positive case for wealth redistribution - whether it be to pre-school education, or through increasing grants for those at university, or via restoring EMA.

Taxation of further education is one of the few issues which can boast a large level of bipartisan support across the political spectrum, and is one of the few viable ways to ensure a fully-funded but regulated further education system, as tuition fees make up over half of many universities budgets. In fact, many political commentators have stated that tuition fees are the only example of taxation upon the middle class that Labour has got the Tories to agree on, albeit if it is a pre-emptive form of it.

Whilst tuition fees are not ideal, they ensure the safeguarding of much university funding, the freeing up of the educational budget to close educational inequality between younger students and to help move towards a meritocratic system of education - which is a thoroughly socialist principle.

Ben Gartside is the Under 19s Officer for North West Young Labour and founder and chair of the Young Greater Manchester Fabians.