NEU exec agrees July teacher strikes

Sean McCauley, NEU NEC, personal capacity

National Education Union (NEU) teacher members in schools and sixth form colleges in England will strike again on 5 and 7 July.

The June National Executive (NEC) agreed, after lengthy debate, to continue to pressure the government this term to meet our demands for a fully funded inflation-proof pay deal for the academic years 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Our strike action already forced the Tory government to the negotiating table in March, breaking with the Tories’ decades-old commitment not to talk directly to unions, instead outsourcing decisions on pay awards to the so-called independent School Teacher Review Body (STRB). The resulting offer was a major insult and members resoundingly rejected it.

The six days of action this calendar year have also forced the STRB to act more independently than ever before, ignoring the government’s submission and recommending an increase in teachers’ pay by 6.5% this September. We only know this through a leak. The Tories continue to refuse to publish the report, and refuse to announce whether they will firstly honour it, and secondly fully fund it. If they were to do both, it would still not meet all our demands, and the NEC and members would need to discuss what to do next.

Building up to major action in schools

NEU is currently reballoting teachers in England and Wales to renew our mandate for strike action. It is going well but there is no room for complacency, due to the undemocratic anti-trade union turnout thresholds. But we’ve done it before and we will do it again.

A special executive in early June agreed to also reballot support staff on the issue of funding, after a hugely successful online indicative ballot. For support staff, funding is crucial. Every time schools make cuts to meet unfunded pay awards, it is support staff who bear the brunt.

The aim is to unite all NEU state education members in the fight to end the staff recruitment and retention crisis in our schools – which has resulted this year in the largest-ever class sizes in secondary schools since records began.

The government will be feeling the heat. Not only are nearly 300,000 NEU members being balloted, but NASUWT, the other main teaching union, and the main primary heads’ union, NAHT, are balloting. Unison and Unite are reballoting their support staff members on pay along with all local government employees.

July strike days

On the teacher strikes, however, April’s NEU conference had agreed three days of action in July, not just two. However, along with confusing dispensation guidance for school groups on the April and May strike days, disorientating some school groups and reps, the ‘NEU Left’ majority leadership decided not to hold strike action from early May because of the exam period. Socialist Party members argued to keep up the momentum with action that ensured no disruption to students taking exams – teachers do not invigilate exams.  This mistake meant that some of the momentum and mood dissipated.

In many districts with strong local left leaderships, including Socialist Party members, the potential for achieving three successful days was clear. However, Socialist Party members on the NEC recognised that was not the case everywhere. Moreover, due to the failure of the NEU Left leadership to announce dates earlier, when the mood amongst members was still very high, this was short notice to reps and members.

Proposals from the general secretaries, which called for one day of action, would, in the view of Socialist Party members, have appeared tokenistic and would not have sent the right message to the government.

The NEU needs to continue to offer a fighting lead when we enter into discussions about joint action in the autumn term with NAHT and NASUWT. The influence of Socialist Party executive members in pushing the leadership has meant the NEU has led the way. Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, is on record as saying he would have accepted a deal similar to the one offered to nurses. That was rejected by Royal College of Nursing members, despite their own leadership recommending it. It was a worse offer than the one we have now.

The other unions’ members know that the STRB’s 6.5% recommendation has not come about through talk. Striking works!

Members’ votes invalidated

The NEC refused to re-run ballots for executive positions in three areas where there were significant numbers of invalidated results in the recent NEU elections. In Sean McCauley’s executive district there were 438 invalidated ballot papers out of just over 2,000. 21% of members’ votes were ruled out! By the NEU’s rules, two of the three positions have to be filled by women. This meant the two women candidates were ‘elected by rule’ and the only candidates to vote for were the two men.

Despite that, for reasons still unexplained, the ballot paper was conducted by single transferable vote (where you indicate your first and second preferences) rather a simple vote. The women’s names still appeared on the ballot paper and many members voted for them, thereby invalidating their votes. Which man would they have voted for, if they had known their vote would have been invalidated? That was not a question the executive agreed to put to the test.

  • The three Socialist Party members on the new executive from Sept 2023 will continue to lead the fight to provide a leadership that leads from the front and builds from the base.