NEU strike in London. Photo: Ellen Kenyon Peers
NEU strike in London. Photo: Ellen Kenyon Peers

Striking works: Let’s keep up the pressure!

Sheila Caffrey, NEU NEC, personal capacity

The reballot for teachers in the National Education Union (NEU) is the union’s main priority right now. This reballot is demanded by the Tories’ anti-union laws after six months. If it is successful, it will enable us to continue the pay and funding battle in the autumn term if necessary.

Can we win again? Of course we can! We’re 25% bigger than the previous ballot, thanks to the increase in membership. Will it be easy? No, but we’re more organised in schools than we’ve ever been, with 3,500 more reps than we had in October. But we still need to win hearts and minds. And we do this by showing we’re still resolute in taking action to win!

The government is aware that education workers remain furious, and committed to fighting on pay and funding. Now a report has been leaked from the ‘independent’ pay review body, a government-appointed panel of so-called experts which makes recommendations to government on pay, suggesting a 6.5% pay rise for teachers for 2023-24.

Let us be clear. This would be the highest pay offer teachers have had and a vast improvement on the pittance offered by Tory Education Secretary Gillian Keegan before Easter, clearly showing our strike action has had an effect. Our members should gain confidence from this.

Keep fighting

Let’s press home our advantage! We have to continue to fight. With no extra funding, this would drive schools to cuts and redundancies. The offer also does nothing to address 2022-23 pay, or the decade of cuts that leaves us with a real-terms pay cut of 24%.

If the government addresses this year’s pay and funding, we will happily meet them at the negotiating table; but until then, we must keep up the pressure.

At NEU conference in April, we voted for three strike days in June or July. Socialist Party members warned of the risks of losing momentum, with delays in announcing dates, long gaps between action, and the lack of a clear lead outlining what was needed to win. Some members are questioning: should we wait to see what other school unions’ ballots are like? Will strike action in the summer term have a good turnout and impact? All genuine questions and concerns that deserve consideration. It is essential we discuss tactics to ensure we have the strongest plan to win.

The other unions are balloting for action because of NEU members’ strong lead. By showing that we’re continuing to fight, we will give their members confidence, just as we ourselves were boosted by the action taken by rail, health and postal unions. In our view, by keeping these three summer strike days, we send the message, following the pay review leak, that we are determined to win.

The National Executive (NEC) of the union met on 18 May and unfortunately decided not to name actual dates; instead, agreeing they will be in the week of 3 July. Socialist Party NEC members argued for clear dates, so that we can plan in our schools to ensure action doesn’t impact on children’s end-of-term treats and trips, but continues to impact the government. This decision won’t now be made until mid-June, but hopefully having the week named will still allow for planning.

Support staff

There was a key discussion about our 57,000 support staff members. The NEU conference voted to campaign for negotiating and bargaining rights for support staff, and the NEC will discuss how to pursue this in June.

The leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has outrageously imposed a big penalty fine on the NEU, following a complaint made by other support staff unions against the NEU for campaigning for action among its support staff members.

When this complaint was first raised, Socialist Party members on the executives of both Unison and NEU signed a joint statement against it. All our members are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, schools are grossly underfunded, workers are fighting back on a scale not seen in years – and yet some union leaders are attacking other unions instead of all fighting together! (See ‘Unison and NEU: For maximum unity not division’).

Socialist Party members are against the decision taken at the NEU executive to pay the fine and put a statement (written by the other unions) on the union website saying we don’t have negotiating rights.

However, the most important thing is the need to ballot support staff, something Socialist Party members on the executive have long campaigned for. We took a motion to the executive last week written by support staff activists.

It was agreed that an indicative ballot would begin as soon as possible, closing on 7 June when, dependent on the response, the formal ballot will be launched. This will allow support staff to join teacher members and other education unions in action in the autumn term.

In line with the TUC agreement, the NEU will send a letter to the other support staff unions saying that we want to ballot to support their action. We’re hoping for a positive response that allows all education workers to move forwards in a united position of strength to win on the pay and funding we all vitally need.

Join the discussion: ‘How we fight the anti-union laws’ at the National Shop Stewards Network conference in London on 24 June.

2023 NSSN Conference – Saturday 24 June in Conway Hall, London 11am-4.30pm –Attendance fee £6. You can register on the day at conference or email us in advance via [email protected]

Confirmed speakers so far: NIPSA General Secretary Carmel Gates, BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley, POA General Secretary Steve Gillan, NAPO National Official Annoesjka Valent, GMB Officer Gary Palmer from the victorious #GMBThree