Teachers exercising their right to strike earlier in 2023. Photo: Paul Mattsson
Teachers exercising their right to strike earlier in 2023. Photo: Paul Mattsson

NEU must help lead fight against new anti-union laws

Sheila Caffrey, NEU Executive member, personal capacity

If it wasn’t bad enough already, when education workers were told at the beginning of October that funding would be slashed further next year, we’ve now also been threatened with ‘minimum service levels’ – an attempt to prevent effective strike action in education and other ‘key’ services.

This is an outrage! The crisis in education has been getting worse for years – less funding, less pay, higher workloads and higher stress levels. Education workers have been voting with their feet. Last year, 40,000 teachers left the profession – the highest number since they started collecting figures; and teachers took 3 million sick days – 60% higher than before the pandemic. Support staff are frequently working two or three jobs, and still not making ends meet – forced out of education due to finances or pressure. A clear indication of stress and lack of value educators feel, but does the government wish to address this? No. They just try to back us into a corner and try to stop us taking action.

Unions must take a stand! We must refuse to accept the minimum service levels and fight to defend our education system regardless. Interestingly, the government didn’t worry about the safety, care or education of our youngest children when they increased the ratios for two-year-olds earlier this year from one adult to every four children, to 1:5.

Likewise, as there are over 1,800 Reception and Key Stage 1 classes above the statutory limit of 30 pupils per class, there has been no concern about minimum service levels with the way this affects education for children or workload for staff.


The shock news that the Department for Education (DfE) has also been spying on education workers’ social media accounts when they have been critical of changes to education has coincidently been released at the same time: a threat to put up and shut up if I’ve ever heard one!

Spying and blacklisting has happened for years in other sectors, which unions have fought against.  The DfE received a barrage of freedom of information requests from concerned workers, but we can’t just see this as isolated attacks on individuals; instead it is part of a concentrated attack on education workers after the successful ballots and strike action taken earlier this year.

We won millions of extra pounds of funding, as well as doubled the pay deal offered for teachers.  Although Socialist Party members in the National Education Union (NEU) argued that we should have kept the pressure on to win more, the government will have been plotting how to ensure that this type of winning campaign doesn’t become the norm.

This puts it to union leaders and the Trades Union Congress (TUC): what will be needed to ensure this legislation never sees the light of day?

The TUC in September agreed to:

  • Build an appropriate industrial response to defend workers’ right to strike
  • Call on employers, devolved governments, mayors, fire authorities, local authorities and other public bodies to refuse to implement the MSL legislation and issue work notices, and work with the trade union movement to render MSLs inoperable
  • Support demonstrations and hold a national march opposing the legislation and calling for repeal of the anti-union laws
  • Mobilise support for any affiliate seeking assistance, whose union and members are sanctioned for non-compliance
  • Organise a Special Congress, size to be determined, to explore options for non-compliance and resistance

So let’s have all preparations ready, the NEU should take a lead in fighting for the TUC to name the date for an open-democratic special congress that can organise across all unions to use industrial action to smash the minimum service levels, and for a national demo. The NEU should support initiatives from other trade unions preparing to fight against MSLs.

If we are to stop the systematic dismantling of education, we need to stand up and fight.  We showed the might of hundreds of thousands of education workers earlier this year and we can do it again if the government persists with these attacks.

  • Get your NEU district to nominate Sheila for NEU Vice-President