NEU on strike at Oaks Park High School. Photo: James Ivens
NEU on strike at Oaks Park High School. Photo: James Ivens

Socialist Party members in education (SPinEd)

Can we win the action needed on pay?

We have come a long way since last April. At conference last year, a motion was passed that committed the union to action on pay. The national executive stated categorically: “At the moment we cannot win a national ballot.” SPinEd members proposed that this line be removed, as balloting for national strike action should never be ruled out. But July 2021’s pay freeze came with barely a mention.

This year, conference will debate the amendment to Motion 10, again on pay. It proposes to “conduct an indicative ballot in either the summer term… or early in the autumn term.” Socialist Party members will be supporting this amendment and arguing that, if adopted, the executive should draw up a clear timetable of activities building towards that ballot, with a clear window for conducting the ballot outlined.

Socialist Party members, along with others in the Education Solidarity Network, have consistently argued that the only way to win a decent national pay award from the government is to build for a national ballot for action.

In early September 2021, we raised on the executive that the union needed to step up and actively oppose the pay freeze, linking the fights over workload, Covid and pay. Joint general secretary Mary Bousted said there were bigger issues. We didn’t go away!

At the October executive, following our submission of a motion on national action on pay that laid out a clear timetable of activities to build towards ballots for national action that would take place before the government made its decisions in July, an alternative paper with a less-clear timetable for action was submitted and agreed. However, this motion, despite not specifying a clear timetable for a ballot, represented a major step forward and had widespread support.

Our message on pay is out there now in members’ minds. Many cost-of-living increases are just now hitting and will galvanise more members to speak out; and if, as warmer weather comes, ventilation is easier and Covid disruption eases even a little, members will have more time for things other than the daily grind.

All members must be actively involved, and the union must fight for all our members. Support staff, further education, supply and independent sector members may have pay agreed in different ways, but by fighting together, we can strengthen the union and win together!

A national contract for a national issue

Trade union attempts to appeal to successive Tory education ministers to ‘see sense’ and act on workload have failed to deliver meaningful change for most members.

A campaign for a national contract for education can change that.

A motion to create one was the only one on the agenda not heard at last year’s conference. It was discussed at a later national executive, where much of the detail was taken out, but was agreed as a campaign. Why? Because it would need us to do more than campaign in words. It would need us to build a systematic campaign from the bottom to the top of the union, before turning outwards.

Union negotiators have also failed to seriously challenge a pay-and-conditions document that gives employers free rein, particularly the open-ended requirement on teachers to “work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties”.

We need a new contract for education that replaces that clause with a clear limit on weekly working hours. For now, many teachers feel they have no choice but to work long hours in order to be ready for their classes and to meet management demands. So, a contractual limit is not sufficient alone.

The call for a new contract should be placed on the review body, government and all employers. NEU members should also make clear that they expect all their executive members to give such a lead – or to stand aside for those who will.