By Sean Marsh
The National Education Union (NEU) Conference began with a jubilant atmosphere, amidst the news that the government’s latest derisory unfunded offer was rejected by a whopping 98% of members on a 66% turnout. The announcement of the victory of left candidate Daniel Kebede to the position of General Secretary (supported by Socialist Alternative NEU members – albeit with criticisms of some of his positions) was likewise greeted by widespread applause from the floor.
It didn’t take long, however, for the manoeuvring of the bureaucracy to begin. On the morning of the second day of Conference, an urgent motion on the pay campaign was debated. Despite the Union’s PayUp! logos appearing all over the conference materials, standing orders were invoked to end the debate after only two amendments. This meant serious strategies for escalation, such as those proposed by Socialist Alternative delegates, went unheard. Socialist Alternative’s James Kerr seconded one amendment, seeking to clarify the vague wording of the motion around industrial action during exams, which was narrowly defeated after a card vote demanded from the floor.
Ultimately, the strategy decided was a further round of strike action on the 27 April and the 2 May, with further dates in June/ July, and a program of action in the lead up to a national demonstration in Manchester at the Conservative Party Conference in October.
Support staff representation
A motion proposed by the support staff sector of the NEU, seeking equal representation within the union, proved to be contentious. The motion sought to demand that the Executive seek recognition and negotiating rights for support staff members, in spite of the TUC’s recent ruling to the contrary. A wrecking amendment backed by the Executive was defeated, following a well-timed intervention by Socialist Alternative member Cormac Kelly – which then led to the original wording of the motion being passed by the conference floor. This is a decision the Executive will be hesitant to follow through on, meaning activists among the rank and file of all sectors of the union will need to apply pressure to ensure it is implemented in full.
One of the other big events of the conference was the passing of the ‘nothing about us without us’ motion. The motion sought to change the guarded seat arrangements of the Union’s LGBT+ Organising Forum to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary members. In addition, the motion reforms the rules of all equalities organising forums, bringing increased democratic accountability within the union. The motion was overwhelmingly passed by the Conference, despite the use of disgusting, dog-whistle transphobia from opposing speakers.
For many delegates, this was their first Conference, which is no doubt part of the reason some present were more willing to give the leadership the benefit of the doubt. However, it also reveals an opportunity for the Left to have a clear, co-ordinated strategy for action within the union, as almost all delegates had an explicit appetite for action not only in relation to pay and funding, but in ending the ineffective and unreliable accountability of the OFSTED inspection system.