The campaign to reinstate Louise Lewis, victimised NEU Rep from North Huddersfield Trust School, has chalked up a very important victory in securing her return to work after seven long months of suspension. There are very many important lessons from this dispute which Socialist Alternative will analyse in further material, but this is, above all else, a victory for united and determined resistance by the union members at Louise’s school.
When Louise was suspended on 1 October last year, the headteacher imposed very strict conditions forbidding her from speaking publicly about her case. Louise could not even attend union meetings where her case was being discussed! Yet, it was very clear that Mr Fell, the Head, was determined that the voice of the NEU in the school should be silenced and was looking to dismiss Louise. The only response had to be a very strong push back from the union.
To assist in this struggle, a ‘Defend Louise Lewis’ campaign, initiated by Socialist Alternative members, was launched with the express intent of mobilising support for Louise in the local community, and across the wider Trade Union and labour Movement. Parents eagerly circulated a petition which very quickly picked up steam; this allowed the whole issue to be brought out into the open and became a running story in the local media. Messages of support and solidarity began to flood into the union branch and the school found itself bombarded with strong opposition to the victimisation from across the whole country.
A joint union meeting was called in the school offering support to Louise and the NEU initiated the ballot process. Once the members had indicated they were willing to support industrial action, a formal industrial action ballot was triggered. The campaign group called a protest outside the school just before Xmas which had a brilliant impact in securing the wide support of pupils and parents for Louise.
Unfortunately, the ballot was called off when the schools went back into lockdown in January this year. It was only when the government announced the date for schools reopening that the ballot took place with members voting again for strike action. A total of seven days of action were called which coincided with the governors finally pulling together the disciplinary hearing. The headteacher was forced to close the school, but only to pupils. The first day of the strike saw a large protest outside the school which forced Mr Fell to completely close the school.
International Socialist Alternative was able to muster very impressive messages of support from all over the world, as well as from this country. The Governing Body was acutely aware that the school was in the full glare of massive attention.
In the end only 4 days of strike action was sufficient. The Disciplinary Panel concluded that Louise should be reinstated. Mr Fell’s gamble has not paid off. His union busting actions have completely backfired and Louise will walk back into school with her head held high. Further questions will have to be asked by the Council, the Governing Body and the local community as to why Mr Fell has chosen to waste school resources on a hugely vindictive course of action. The ‘Defend Louise Lewis’ campaign will continue its work to expose this Head and ensure he is never able to repeat any of these actions again.
During these last seven months, Louise has remained very positive and focused. She has now been elected to the union’s National Executive Committee and also as the branch’s president and Health and Safety Officer. There is little doubt that this is not the last we have heard of Louise Lewis!