Sheila on the picket line
Sheila on the picket line

No to cuts – get ready to fight again!

On Friday 6 October, the Tories announced an “accounting error” that cuts education funding by £370 million. This announcement was made just as members of the National Education Union (NEU) are getting ready to nominate candidates for two vice-presidents of the union. Nominations open on 1 November. This is an opportunity for members to elect a serious, fighting leader, who is up to the challenge of leading a fight to defend education and jobs.

Socialist Party member Sheila Caffrey, National Executive (NEC) member and activist in Bristol NEU, has written to NEU districts requesting nomination.

Sheila says:

“Teacher members of the NEU have taken massive national strike action and forced the Tory government to retreat on pay. 70,000 members joined the union and thousands stepped forward to be reps.

“A reballot of members in May and June indicated enormous support to continue strike action, with a 95% ‘yes’ vote, giving the union a mandate for action into the autumn.

“Unfortunately, the leadership of the NEU recommended a premature ending of the dispute once the Tories offered 6.5%. Socialist Party executive members and I warned that the offer was not enough, and was not fully funded even without this ‘error’.

“We need to prepare our members to fight again.

“While Labour’s shadow education secretary described this ‘error’ as ‘More Tory chaos, more uncertainty for schools and families’, all we hear from Starmer’s Labour is ‘fiscal responsibility’. With a general election looming, the NEU must demand that they commit to fully funding our schools.

“We need a presidential team that is prepared to lead a national fight when needed, no matter who forms the next government.”

Sheila, along with other Socialist Party members on the NEC, has campaigned all along for the national action that was necessary, and has also campaigned for support staff members of the union to be part of that fightback. 

Sheila says in her letter requesting nomination:

“I have been proud to be part of nearly half a million members who stood up to demand the government respect education. As a current member of the national executive, re-elected this year on a fighting programme, I have regularly written motions and spoken at the executive over the last two years arguing for a national, fighting strategy for an inflation-proof pay rise for all staff.

“This must be built from below, ensuring, as a lay-led union, we have strong union groups in schools, colleges and nurseries.

“However, that on its own leaves many of our members to fight alone – in unorganised workplaces; in supply agencies; in tiny rural schools etc. We need a strong leadership that leads from the front showing the power of a national union, sharing a strategy that supports all members.

“Striking works! We forced the government through three ‘final’ pay deals. Last year, 40,000 teachers left the profession – the highest number since they started collecting figures; and teachers took three million sick days – 60% higher than before the pandemic.

“Support staff are frequently working two or three jobs and still not making ends meet, and are being forced out of education due to finances or pressure.

“But could we have won more? Certainly, there’s no chance that an extra £100 a month in pay packets is going to turn around these figures to resolve the recruitment and retention issues we face.

“So, we must show our colleagues and pupils that it is worth fighting! That there will be an education system for the next generation. An education system that is fully funded; accountable to local communities; that has a curriculum created by educators and that reflects the needs of all children and young people.”

Sheila’s letter also argues for:

  • A new national contract, with a limit on hours worked
  • Continuing to fight for support staff members, including acting on the decision of national conference to campaign for recognition for NEU support staff
  • Supporting and listening to equalities groups
  • Campaigning for proper pay, pensions and conditions for supply staff