By Socialist Alternative members in the National Education Union
While education workers turned out in their thousands for protests and picket lines this week as part of the National Education Union’s (NEU) ongoing industrial dispute over pay and conditions, the demand from staff was clear. We are fighting for a 12%+, fully-funded pay increase to rectify the years of real-terms pay cuts we’ve seen under the Tories.
And yet, while we rallied, picketed, leafleted and gave up two days’ pay, NEU Joint General Secretary (JGS) Mary Bousted appeared on the BBC effectively telling the Tories that if they offer us a 6.5% pay increase this will end the dispute. A subsequent joint press release with fellow JGS Kevin Courtney echoed this sentiment.
A 6.5% “increase” would still be below the current RPI rate of 11.3%, meaning another year of real terms pay cuts. It would do nothing to address the crisis in school funding, nothing to address the ever-increasing number of workers leaving education altogether, nothing to address workload, and nothing to address the constant Tory culture war attacks on the curriculum.
In April, the General Secretary of NASUWT, Patrick Roach, said he would be prepared to recommend an offer similar to that which had been made to striking healthcare workers. Just a few days later members of the Royal College of Nursing rejected that same deal! It doesn’t take an expert negotiator to know that if the union suggests we’ll take 6.5%, the Tories won’t be breaking the bank to offer more than that.
NEU members deserve stronger leadership than one which is prepared to wave the white flag in the media while we are out fighting. Incoming General Secretary Daniel Kebede recently tweeted that public sector pay rises in Belgium automatically track inflation. Teachers there got a payrise of 11%. Inflation in Belgium today is 4.15%, far lower than in the UK – the money is available to fund schools and decent pay for teachers, and we need to fight to win it.
The union has demanded a fully-funded, above-inflation pay rise and should stick to that demand. There has been no discussion or consultation with members about the possibility of accepting 6.5%. Perhaps our JGS’ have forgotten that the union’s membership overwhelmingly rejected the government’s offer of a 4.5% pay increase just 4 months ago!
The NEU leadership should not be taking its lead from the supposedly ‘independent’ School Teachers’ Review Body, but from our members. The STRB itself should be abolished, with direct collective bargaining being the only real way to improve pay and conditions.
Neither Kevin nor Mary will be in post as JGS in September, when key decisions will be made about what we are campaigning for, what offers we would be prepared to accept, or how we carry out and escalate industrial action in order to win.
As the leaflet distributed by Socialist Alternative members and supporters around the country this week stated, we need to “go hard or go home”, use the summer to prepare to fund escalating strike action in the Autumn term, and not settle for the crumbs from the table that the Tories might be prepared to offer us. NEU members are ready to “go hard” – unfortunately it seems that a leadership that is already on its way out would rather “go home”.
Socialist Alternative says:
- We want 12%+, fully funded, and not a penny less!
- We need a lay-led, democratic union – not leaders who are prepared to surrender to the Tories without consultation!
- Industrial action must escalate in the Autumn term, co-ordinated as far as possible with other unions. We need to build our strike funds over the summer in order to support extended action to finally win this dispute!