Originally published 16 January 2023
By Socialist Alternative members in the NEU
Today the National Education Union (NEU) announced that members have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action, beating the restrictive anti- trade union laws and opening up the possibility of joint action with other unions including those representing railway workers, postal workers, healthcare workers and civil servants.
Over 90% of NEU members voted in favour of industrial action on a turnout of over 50%. This follows the Tories’ insulting pay offer of a 5% increase, representing a real terms cut in pay. Since 2010, school staff pay has fallen around 23% relative to inflation, a trend that will continue to worsen as the cost of living increases further.
School staff organised in the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), NASUWT, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) and the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) have already closed schools across Scotland through industrial action, paving the way for schools across England, Wales and Scotland to be closed through united action with the NEU. The NEU will begin its action with a national strike on February 1st, followed by rolling regional strikes from 14 February to 2 March, and a two day national strike on 15-16 March. The union has also called a national demonstration outside Parliament on 15 March – Budget Day.
While the anti-trade union laws prevented NEU support staff members in England, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the NASUWT in England and Wales from taking formal strike action despite a clear majority of voting members voting in favour, joint union meetings should be called in every workplace to discuss how all staff can support the strikes.
This must include preparation to encourage all staff not to cover lessons or cross picket lines, an organised refusal to plan or deliver online or blended learning or to complete administrative tasks due to be carried out on strike days, and building support for action among students, families and the wider community. Unions should also remind members that they do not have to, and should not, disclose to their bosses whether they plan to take part in industrial action.
With schools already facing budget cuts, an increased pay award must be fully funded and not taken out of schools’ budgets. While the Tories cry crocodile tears and wring their hands in public about the impact of industrial action on childrens’ education, it is their policies which have led to a shortage of staff and lack of provision for all children – the fight for a real pay increase for staff is not separate from the fight for a better education system, they are intrinsically linked. This ballot result does not merely reflect staff wanting a better pay deal – it also shows an increasing resistance to budget cuts, regressive and restrictive Whitehall guidance, and SATS and baseline testing.
The Daily Telegraph has reported that Tory ministers will “plead” with schools to keep classes open for some students. This is a clear sign of desperation from the Government, along with their plans for further draconian anti-union legislation requiring schools to maintain a “minimum service level” even during periods of industrial action.
Reports that some schools and Multi Academy Trusts have collected a “reserve” of recorded online lessons previously delivered by school staff even opens up the Kafkaesque possibility that striking workers’ lessons could be virtually “covered” by prior recordings of the workers themselves! All education unions must firmly oppose any agreement with the Tories to a “minimum service level”, and resist any legislation that would enforce such a requirement.
Socialist Alternative has strongly endorsed an open letter from Enough is Enough activists calling on all trade unions currently in dispute to take action together on February 1st. Solidarity strike rallies, mass pickets and public meetings should be called in support of all workers taking industrial action, including a huge mobilisation across all unions for the planned national demonstration on 15 March. The Tory government is weak and hopelessly divided, offering no solutions to the cost of living crisis, and can be driven out of office by a mass movement.
With a determined and very clear programme of ongoing and escalating action, keeping members regularly informed and involved in the development of a timetable of industrial action, this is a dispute that can be won. The government will be terrified of wholesale school closures and disruption. It’s vital that local branches and school groups link up with
parents and their local community to maintain public support. A victory for the union will be a victory for properly funded education and rolling back the privatisation and cost cutting agenda of the Tories.