NEU members on strike. Photo: Steve Harbord
NEU members on strike. Photo: Steve Harbord

Sheila Caffrey, NEU national executive member

The National Education Union’s (NEU) national conference on 11 April voted for the need to take industrial action for an 8% pay rise. With the cost-of-living crisis high in people’s minds, as well as a union survey in which 60,000 teachers said they would take action to win on pay, there is a clear mood in the union that another below-inflation pay ‘rise’ is not going to cut it!

But what a flat discussion at the conference! In no way did it reflect the opinionated meetings around south-west England that I’ve spoken at as an executive member.

Only the four speeches proposing the motion and amendment were allowed, with no space for discussion. One of the speeches was taken up with the delegate repeatedly saying that people had to be aware of what they were voting for, and that they would have to do a lot of work – almost as if it were being set up to fail.

Socialist Party members in the union, and the five of us on the national executive, have been arguing loudly, with motions and letters, that we need a planned campaign, with a clear timeline for building to strike if the NEU’s aims aren’t met. This time last year, the national officers and other members of the executive said that a national ballot was impossible, yet with our constant pressure, they were forced to publicly support the motion this year.

The anti-trade union laws certainly create a barrier for taking action, but surely we should start with what is needed, and then plan for how to get there. We need to link with other unions across education, the public sector and beyond to build a campaign where workers get paid what they need and deserve.

No one goes into education for the money, but no one should do it voluntarily either!  Workers are leaving education in droves, due mainly to pressure, workload and bullying. But a significant fully funded pay increase would mean that people weren’t worrying about how to pay their bills as well.

The whole of the country needs a pay rise, and hopefully, with pressure from the rank and file, the NEU will lead this fight this autumn, starting with its indicative ballot.