By Socialist Alternative members in NEU
The Government has put to the education unions a revised pay deal for teachers with minor gains on what was already on offer. The first key point to underline is that these gains have only come about because of a willingness of education workers to stand up and take industrial action.
The NEU’s four days of strike action in England, with an enormous national demonstration in London on 15 March, have had an effect. We must remember this when deciding the next steps.
The government’s offer
The government’s offer is paltry: a one-off £1,000 unconsolidated payment and a 4.3% pay rise from September (up from the 2% they had submitted as a guide to the School Teacher’s Review Body) and some amendment to conditions, like the reinstatement of 21 admin tasks teachers should not be expected to do. Only part of this deal is funded by new money from central government, so more strain will be placed on already stretched school budgets.
Raise the profile of our demands
The offer is way off what we went into this campaign demanding. The NEU’s demand was for an inflation plus pay rise, fully funded. RPI inflation was running at 12% at the end of September and this needs to be highlighted within the slogans and material of our campaign. Anything less is another pay cut, after seventeen years of them and more than a 20% decline in real terms pay for teachers since 2010.
Reject the deal, build for escalated action
The NEU National Executive has agreed to put this poor deal to members and it is positive that they are calling clearly on members to vote for a rejection, unlike in Wales, where there was no recommendation which resulted in members accepting.
We can only give members confidence to reject this deal and fight for more if they know there is a serious strategy in place to win this dispute. After a slight drop in momentum when we moved to regional strikes, the 15 and 16 March showed a hardening in the mood of many pickets, a growing determination and strong turnouts for strikes.
NEU Conference will take the decision on the next strike dates and Socialist Alternative members will be arguing for an escalation strategy that involves an intensification of action early in the Summer Term. Once we get further into May, more pressure will be on teachers to support students with exams, go on school journeys and there will be the need to re-ballot members in order to be able to take action in the Autumn Term, if the dispute hasn’t been settled.
If we want to be able to take further action, the question of money is essential or we will see more people crossing picket lines. Many NEU districts have hardship funds, accessed by members who need support financially, but there hasn’t been a conscious and lengthy campaign over a long period to build up a war chest. The Royal College of Nursing prepared this over a year and we need to be ready to do the same, linking it to our demand for increased funding and the benefits felt by all.
A combative campaign
Escalation of a campaign is not merely about the number of days but the intention and tone of the campaign. We need to be more combative in our materials and interventions, pointing to the total hypocrisy of a Tory government that continues to subsidise the energy companies and other big businesses but claims poverty when it comes to public sector wages.
The NEU had a pivotal role in the result of the 2017 election based on its campaign over school funding. Drawing up a hit list of vulnerable Tory MPs and marginal constituencies and making them a battleground in the strike needs to be put in place. Members in the Southern region did that by going to Gillian Keegan’s Chichester constituency on one of their strike days. Keegan, an honorary member of Chichester Yacht Club, is emblematic of the class divide in this country: the have yachts and the have nots.
School budgets are also being drained by PFI contracts that charge over the odds for the rental and upkeep of school buildings. Protests outside the headquarters of these multinational companies on strike days can illustrate where the money in education is actually going. This is before we talk about the huge sums the Conservatives are willing to plough into their privatisation agenda in the academies and free schools programme.
Scrap the STRB
What is also clear is the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) has been exposed for the sham it is. If unions can go into direct talks with the government over pay and conditions and gains can be agreed, why have this charade of an ‘independent’ body? We should demand the reinstatement of collective bargaining and direct negotiations and bin the STRB.
Coordinate and generalise
One of the most powerful elements of the 15 March mega demo was the coordination between different unions. NEU school groups marched alongside PCS members, junior doctors in their scrubs, and others in the strike wave.
This can go some way to cutting across a sectoral approach from some at the top of unions who may work to settle a deal for their members away from the broader struggle. What should be on offer here is not just a slight slowing in the pace of the race to the bottom but a rebalancing of the huge sums that have been taken from the public sector and transferred to the pockets of the super rich. This is also a struggle over the political future of the Conservative government. Powerful, unified and generalised strike action can form the backbone of a movement to drive the Tories out.
What you can do:
- Share this article with colleagues to start a discussion
- Call a union group meeting this week in your workplace to vote to reject the deal and debate what needs to happen next
- Lobby conference delegates and Executive members from your area to argue for the strategy you think can win
- Build links with other unions in dispute locally to coordinate your actions
- Join Socialist Alternative and argue for our position within the National Education Union