The return of striking children, the environment and Brexit’s impact on rural economies emerged as central themes at the annual Burston School Strike rally in Norfolk on Sunday (September 1).
The Unite-organised rally commemorates the 25 year strike – the longest in UK history – which began in 1914 after teachers Tom and Annie Higdon were dismissed from their posts in the rural village of Burston.
The Higdons taught the children of local farm workers and fought against the cold and insanitary conditions of the school as well as landowners removing pupils to work on farms.
After the Higdons were sacked by the school committee – which was made up of farmers – the children of Burston marched around the village with cards hanging from their necks demanding “we want our teachers back”.
Encouraged by the local community, the Higdons set up an independent strike school in the village, with the dispute ending in 1939, following the death of Tom Higdon and Annie’s retirement.
Addressing a hundreds strong crowd, Unite Landworker editor Amanda Campbell (pictured)said the issues that impacted agricultural workers a century ago are still common today.
She said, “Just as in the Higdon’s day, many rural workers still face the same issues of low pay and job and housing insecurity. The battles for justice, fairness and equality still rage on.”
One of the biggest threats to the UK’s farmer workers is a no deal Brexit, Campbell told the crowd, saying it would be nothing short of a “farmageddon”.
She said, “If no deal isn’t taken off the table food will rot unpicked in the fields or aboard lorries stuck waiting to get through custom controls.
“Livestock farmers will face impossible tariffs and have threatened to blockade roads with their cattle and sheep. Industry specialists warn that half of all farms could fail with overall profits for the sector sliding by £850m a year.”
Highlighting the impact such economic chaos will have on working families, Campbell said, “Britain’s food industry employs over 450,000 people with over 4m more working in the food supply chain. It’s 17 per cent of all UK manufacturing.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner (pictured) addressed the crowd on pressing issues related to the environment.
He said, “We must have a green industrial strategy that takes us through for the next generation. Making sure our manufacturing industries are at the forefront of the world in challenging the crisis we see now with climate change.”
Attending the rally for the first time, Unite London and Eastern member Jase Williams told UniteLive that just like the Burston School Strike, children are standing up to affect change.
He said, “It’s very important to remember that the Burston School Strike was started by children and children are now taking action against the damage we doing to the environment with the school strikes and other protests. They have a powerful voice and one that must be listened to.”
Illustrating Williams’ point, during the trade union march through the village children held banners saying “climate strike: the school strikers are back!” and “we want our future back”.
City Norwich School pupil Florence Longergan, 16, who attended the rally, will be joining her fellow students at a school strike over the climate emergency on September 20.
She said, “In March we had 1.4m people globally strike from school on this issue of climate change.”