Guest post by an anonymous contributor
Blair became involved in organised teacher politics in London through the Rank and File movement, an organisation of rank-and-file teachers which the SWP had originally set up but which went far beyond the SWP’s ranks. He was very active in Rank and File at a London and national level and realised that his politics were closer to the SWP than to other organisations on the left. In 1977, he and I both joined the SWP, but he retained a passionate commitment to Rank and File Teacher and to the production and distribution, nationally, of Rank and File Teacher magazine.
In 1974, when Rank and File was pressing for a significant increase in teachers’ salaries, teachers at Phoenix School voted to take unofficial industrial action. Peach, and other teachers, were summoned to appear before a governors’ panel, threatened with disciplinary action. They had, however overwhelming support from parents, pupils and other local teachers and, after the hearing, they were completely vindicated: the teachers won.
Phoenix School was, in the language of the time, a School for the Delicate. Blair and I both taught literacy. We had pupils with a wide range of special needs; learning needs, behavioural needs and medical needs, some of which were life limiting. The school had both a primary and a secondary element, and we took in a number of pupils who had coped at primary school but failed at a larger comprehensive. Our class sizes were small; I never taught more than 10 or 12 pupils at once and sometimes pupils worked in very small groups for reading, even 1-1. One of the things which Blair was passionate about was trying to give pupils similar opportunities to their peers in mainstream schools. He managed to institute CSE / ‘O’ level provision for the small number of older pupils who could benefit and also overcame opposition and organised a school trip to Paris, which, for some of those who went, was the first time they had travelled out of East London.
Blair was happiest talking politics with friends in the pub. Meetings often moved on to the pub and it was after such a meeting that the events that provoked the picketing of the Railway Tavern took place.
Blair was a socialist and committed to public services. After he had been attacked and injured by racists in a local park, Blair made the detour to Bethnal Green hospital in order to emphasise the need for the local casualty department, which had recently been closed. Only then did he make his way to the London Hospital, to get the treatment he needed.