Little Ilford school picket line 18 November 2020, photo James Ivens

Little Ilford school picket line 18 November 2020, photo James Ivens   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

James Ivens, East London Socialist Party

“I am the least rebellious person I know. I get to school at 6.30! But I have participated in this strike, and I will continue to participate in this strike… The kids will miss out on a whole lot more if we fall.”

These words at the 19 November strike rally sum up the motivations of pickets at Little Ilford School in east London. Members of the National Education Union (NEU) had walked out on four days as the Socialist went to press, with another two planned.

The campaign against cramming even more students into this full-up comp has mobilised over 50 workers onto every picket line so far. Over a dozen have bought copies of the Socialist newspaper.

Another striker told the third-day rally: “I come from a working-class background. I wanted to give working-class people a chance. That’s why I went into education. That’s not what’s happening with this expansion.”

Even most of the school’s senior management team is on strike against this disastrous plan. After more than four hours of negotiations, the education authority’s response to the union’s demand for 13 new jobs was… 2.2 jobs. Newham NEU rightly says the strike will go on till there’s a real offer. The union has called further strike days for Tuesday 8 and Wednesday 9 December.

Newham council has over £500 million in ‘usable’ reserves and well over £1 billion in total reserves. The Labour administration has had six years’ warning of the need for more places. It should use its reserves and borrowing powers to create safe, manageable school places in the borough – under the democratic oversight of school unions, parents and students – and send the bill to Westminster.

Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz came to power promising she was different to the old Blairite regime of Sir Robin Wales. But what has really changed?

Neither the Tories, nor the Labour of Fiaz, Khan and Starmer, represents working-class people. Trade unionists like the Little Ilford strikers should consider their own electoral challenge to cuts politicians. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition exists to facilitate such stands.

The NEU’s national leadership has declared the strike will go on till there is an acceptable alternative. This is an important signal to the council that it is facing firm opposition.

But Little Ilford workers might wonder why there was not the same firmness for national strikes against unsafe pandemic conditions, against crushing workload and low pay. NEU members are willing to fight. They need a national leadership to match.