Sheila marches with Bristol Trades Council banner on Gaza demo. Photo: Roger Thomas
Sheila marches with Bristol Trades Council banner on Gaza demo. Photo: Roger Thomas

Sheila Caffrey, Candidate for NEU vice-president

Like hundreds of thousands of people, including many National Education Union (NEU) members, I have marched and protested against the Israeli state’s onslaught on Gaza.

Some of the organisations that are calling the demonstrations, such as Stop the War and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, have also called for protests and meetings at workplaces, including the day of action on 7 February.

Trade unions should take a lead

As a result of the strike wave that started in 2022, trade union leaders have gained a huge authority, but the full weight of the six million-strong trade union movement in Britain is yet be brought to the heart of the anti-war movement. With a strong lead, unions could mobilise much bigger numbers onto the demonstrations, which would have a greater impact on the Tories and on Keir Starmer. They could bring their weight to demands on Keir Starmer to stop backing the Israeli state war machine.

Trade union leaders should also encourage regions and branches to work together with other unions, including through trades councils, to organise local protests. The NEU should also lead calls on the TUC to coordinate a strategy, which should include readiness to defend any group of workers who face victimisation for anti-war stands, as the TUC has correctly committed to in relation to the minimum service level anti-strike laws.

In schools

For NEU members, the war on Gaza is particularly important because of the children, students and families we support who are directly affected, and who in general face a world of war and conflict. That matters in the classroom, and it matters when our students want to protest, perhaps take part in walk-outs, or show solidarity in other ways such as by wearing badges.

While some school leaders have been supportive, many of our members work in an environment of bullying management that takes draconian measures against both children and staff. Some school managements have reported children to Prevent, the government’s anti-terrorism programme, just for showing support for Palestine, which we must oppose. In such toxic workplaces, young teachers can feel unable to ask for professional guidance.

That is a reflection both of the woeful role of local authorities and of academisation. Labour-led local authorities should implement pastoral, educative and consistent discussion between staff and school leaderships on how to address such issues, using them as opportunities to listen to each other with respect. Academisation has allowed ‘rogue’ management to operate unchecked, without any even partial democratic accountability.

NEU groups should approach heads collectively, calling not for punishment but discussion.

NEU groups should also reach out to parents for discussion and collaboration, to try to avoid pitting parents against staff. A working group in schools with union members, reps of students and parents, could discuss and negotiate. Collectively we can develop our union response to protest, Prevent, antisemitism and Islamophobia, rather than leaving it to individuals.

If an individual school leadership is unreasonable, the union should collectively respond in an organised and democratically agreed way. Many campaigns against academisation have demonstrated the strength of organised union, parent and student action.

We need our own voice

The onslaught on Gaza and Palestinians has highlighted for even bigger numbers of people that the Starmer-led Labour Party does not speak for them. The latest example being the suspension of Labour MP for Edmonton, north London, Kate Osamor. We want to get rid of the Tories as soon as possible, but the reality is that a Starmer-led government would still back Israeli state repression and violence.

That’s why in my vice-presidential campaign I have highlighted that I would welcome candidates in local and national elections that support our members and our union’s policies. That means vital issues like inflation-proof pay rises and full funding for education, and should also include solidarity with the people of Gaza.

A workers’ list of candidates – trade unionists, anti-war campaigners, socialists, including former Labour MPs candidates now barred from standing for Labour, such as Jeremy Corbyn, Emma Dent Coad and Kate Osamor – would bring the pressure of the mass movement outside into parliament. They could move amendments, like the SNP did, and apply big pressure to a Labour government. That would be an important step to the new working-class-based party I believe we need.

We have to fight together for the fully funded, public, democratically controlled, inclusive education system we all need.

Vote Sheila Caffrey #1 for NEU vice-president

Sheila, an Executive member of the National Education Union and Socialist Party member, has been to the fore fighting for the trade union movement to put its full weight behind the anti-war movement.