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

We have to be the strongest fighters

Sheila Caffrey, NEU executive member (personal capacity)

How do you build a fighting, membership-led union? What are the biggest issues currently facing education staff? And how do you tie both together to win? 

These are questions that the five Socialist Party members on the National Education Union (NEU) National Executive ask before putting any strategy forward. This allows us to think carefully about what to win, as well as how.

We have consistently been the only ones who submit strategies to win on workload, pay and fighting for a national contract for all educators.

It sometimes feels like we don’t win much during meetings, but then a month or so later we discover that what we’ve said has become the position of the union.

However, this week’s meeting was a little different: our motion on pay, building on the conference decision to hold an indicative ballot in October, actually just got reworded and submitted by others further up the same agenda! 

Why? Well, they know that we have the ear of our membership, that we know what to fight for, and that we can design a plan to win.  Also, with elections for general secretary looming, perhaps some want to look like they’re organising a fightback. Just as long as it doesn’t have our names on it!

So, what did we win at this meeting? We won wording that made it clear that the campaign on pay must be linked to workload and winning a national contract. 

We were also widely supported with our call to inspire members, echoing our wording from the last NEU election, when we called for a deputy general secretary who would ‘lead from the front, and build from below’. Members need to feel that they can win, and this is felt when there’s a leadership which not only believes this, but vocally rallies members. 

Bold campaign

We also had it agreed to produce material for public street stalls, ensuring campaigns are built across workplaces and with community support. A pay rise for any group of workers cuts across a race to the bottom on wages and conditions. 

Other points we added in were having specific material directed at supply teachers to ensure that the pay campaign isn’t only about those with permanent contracts. Also holding national, mass meetings for all members, and one specifically for support staff. All members need to feel that they’re part of a national campaign, run by a national union, fighting for a pay rise for all NEU members.

All education workers

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get movement on having simultaneous indicative ballots for teachers and support staff. We were told that ‘shoehorning all in so no-one is upset isn’t the answer’, that we were ‘tagging support staff on as an afterthought’, and that we should ‘come back after having done some work in our districts’. 

This, of course, isn’t true! Not only have we been raising the need for a unified campaign all year, but in fact, got elected to the executive after standing on a platform calling for proper organising for all sections of the union!

Furthermore, our motion was based on what support staff had brought to our national conference, and we shared with support staff members in the Education Solidarity Network (the broader left grouping we work within) for feedback.

This is solely the leadership showing their lack of confidence, and their lack of seriousness in building a campaign to win on pay for those who are lowest paid in our union. 

We will keep fighting for the inclusion of support staff, as well as fighting for a bold campaign to win on pay, workload and all issues facing all education workers.

If we want a strong, fighting union, then we will be the strongest fighters.

If you are a teacher, member of support staff or work in a school, college or nursery, get in touch with us! We want to bring all the most active, socialist campaigners together so we can help direct the union to achieve the education system and workplaces we need and deserve!