On 16th December, in drizzling rain, 20 supporters of the Defend Louise Lewis Campaign turned out in a public protest outside North Huddersfield Trust School. The protest was restricted to close supporters to ensure Covid guidelines were followed. Solidarity was brought from all over Yorkshire including Barnsley TUC, Leeds TUC, Manchester and Wakefield NEU. We were also joined by rebel Councillor Rob Walker and former MP, Thelma Walker. Huddersfield TUC brought their banner and expressed full support. Also present was a delegation from the recently formed Black Lives Coalition. Members of Socialist Alternative were of course also out in force to show our complete support.
Pupils and staff showed great interest in the protest which made a big impact with passing traffic and many parents. Protestors shouted ‘What’s her name? Louise Lewis!’ and ‘Reinstate Louise Lewis!’
Socialist Alternative activist Mike Forster explained the background to the dispute and clearly expressed the feelings of the protestors by demanding her immediate reinstatement and for an independent investigation into the actions of the headteacher, Mr Fell.
NEU members have just completed an indicative ballot for strike action. They have voted overwhelmingly for action and the union will now be seeking a formal industrial action ballot.
The parents who joined the protest were thanked for instigating their petition which has now been signed by more than 800 people. In addition the NEU petition which has been circulated nationally has already attracted more than 1500 signatures. Momentum is now building for escalating the campaign and of course potential strike action.
Inside the school, pupils have been heard chanting ‘Louise Lewis’ along the corridors and staff have reported feeling a lot more confident about publicly expressing their support for Louise. Unfortunately, Mr Fell failed to witness the protest as he and other members of his Leadership Team are self isolating following an outbreak of the virus amongst the management.
Louise was criticised by Mr Fell for persistently demanding risk assessments and tried having her removed as the union rep to no avail. He will live to regret his actions in trying to isolate the union. The protest has clearly demonstrated the huge support Louise continues to enjoy in the school and the wider community.
Unfortunately Louise was unable to join the protest as the condition of her suspension prevents her from speaking out about her victimisation. However, she was very grateful for the public support on display outside the school.
We are asking supporters to keep up the campaign. We are linking up with other NEU reps who are facing similar victimisation in other schools nationally. We’ll be organising an online rally early in the New Year to bring together all those struggles. Everyone can help by sending in messages of support, sending messages of protest to the school and Local Authority, signing the petition and raising the issue in local union branches.
We expect the NEU to sanction the ballot early in the New Year but the formal disciplinary process continues to slowly grind on. Whilst the head seems determined to remove Louise from the school, the campaign has other ideas. Momentum is now with us and we remain confident that Louise can be vindicated. Thanks go to all Socialist Alternative supporters and members who have been tirelessly raising the profile of the campaign. We demand:
- Reinstate Louise now and drop the charges!
- For an independent inquiry into the anti union actions of the school!