This report submitted to the Workers Party TU Group is reproduced here ‘warts and all’. It comes from the picket line, the ink barely dry. Our job is not to sanitise the raw emotion of class struggle, but this dispute like so many others will need reflecting on in the cold light of day in due course. The Workers Party stands in solidarity with all those teachers who took a stand and fought for this well deserved pay rise.
by Workers GB Trade Union Group
Between January and July of this year, the teachers of the National Education Union (NEU) (and some fantastic support staff, who refused to cross a picket line) have taken 8 days of industrial action over pay, conditions and school funding. On 31st of July, Teachers from the NEU voted to accept the pay offer of 6.5%, with an increase in funding from 2.0 to 2.9 billion, apparently fully funded, by a margin of 86% to 14%, on a 60% turnout.
There is no doubt that the strike action from the NEU forced the government to increase their offer from, originally nothing, and then up to 4.3%, and when this was overwhelmingly rejected, up to the 6.5% that NEU members have accepted.
As one of the 14% who rejected the offer, this result had not gone the way that I wanted. Nonetheless, members should be proud of the action they took, and the sacrifices they made to get an increase in school funding, and an increase in pay for EVERY teacher.
The national executive of the NEU, who advised members to reject the 4.3% offer and praised the NEU members who sacrificed 8 days pay, agree that the 6.5% does not compensate for the underfunding, but, given the political climate, they advised members to accept the deal. They argue that if the National Union of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers (NASUWT), a union who’s members took no strike action) accepted the offer, then it will be down to NEU members AGAIN to make the sacrifice, and take more intense industrial action.
My regional branch (West Midlands) gave advice to the contrary, telling members that the 6.5% was already in the bag whether we accept or reject, and this was the time to put more pressure on the government. They argue (correctly, in my opinion, but this shall require a further article) that the increase was not fully funded, and therefore urged members to reject the offer. They were not the only regional NEU branch to take this position.
We are where we are, and there seems little point in apportioning blame to people who are generally on the same side. However, given that we have been pushed into accepting an offer that, given inflation, is a sizeable pay cut, I will make a few short points on what we might do next time. And there will be a next time, because whether the government is a Conservative or Labour one, it’s a case of “Labour, Tory, same old story.”
- Save up the action for striking over longer periods. We only need to look at the 5 days of continuous action taken by the Unite Union bus drivers in Birmingham to see that sacrifices are rewarded. Pay for bus drivers increased by 16.2%. Good on the bus drivers!
- Don’t strike in July. The year 11 and year 13 students have left school! Some of the year groups are doing extra-curricular activities that are delivered by outside agencies, not teachers. If the Union calls you out, you go out! But make it effective!
- Don’t call members out, but then offer “special dispensation” – as was the case for the strikes in April and May – where teachers were given the “ok” by the union to attend school on these strike days for students who were taking exams. There was a great opportunity to prove teachers could be militant and supportive for long-term comprehensive education that was lost because of this undermining advice. A national union should not be offering advice to its members to break the strike that they called themselves! You had the bizarre scenes of teachers picketing outside a school, whistles blowing, “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “Part of the Union” blaring, holding signs with “DO NOT CROSS THE PICKET LINE” written on them, all of a sudden, turning around and saying “OK, I’m off to work now, see you later.” Strikes are meant to be disruptive. The Union blinked, and it didn’t help the cause.
- Stop wasting thousands of pounds on rallies, demonstrations, protests, and the like. There should have been a picket line fund, like there was for the successful bus drivers strike. Instead, there was a hardship fund, most likely accessed by the tight-arse scab-teachers in the Union, that broke every picket line, and the rest of the money (from subs of over £243 a year, per teacher) wasted on things like subsidised coaches to demonstrations for things that the average teacher has, frankly, no interest in whatsoever. Stop wasting members money on activities for retired members (£20 a year) who haven’t been in a classroom since the invention of email, and grow the picket line.
- Kick scabs out of the Union. We don’t need them.
If the NEU has lessons to learn, then that is nothing compared to the free-riding NASUWT. They contributed not one jot towards the pay increase they will all receive. They are seen by NEU members as a waste of time, and rightly so. They could have easily switched unions (as many did, and fair play to you all!) to support the action, but many decided not to so they can reap the collective benefits without contributing a thing to the collective action.
And for the scabs in the NEU who crossed the picket line. Everyone, no matter what school you’re at, knows who you are and what you are. There is nothing lower than a scab.
Anybody who supported the strike action should be proud of themselves. We have a long way to go as a class, but we can sleep well at night knowing that we contributed to the pay increase for ALL TEACHERS that, otherwise, would be zero. Thanks to you guys.
Submitted by a teacher, West Midlands NEU