Class (Room) Warfare

Strike Wave

23rd May 2023
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A rundown of the school strikes from a National Educatoin Union (NEU) school rep. 

Mid January saw the National Education Union (NEU) become the largest union yet to beat the government’s anti-strike ballot thresholds.

Members were balloted in response to a derisory 5% pay offer (a 7% pay cut in the context of inflation at 12%) awarded against the backdrop of 10 years of below inflation/no pay awards. Just as importantly, the ballot demanded that any pay increase be centrally funded, meaning that the bill for a fair pay settlement should be footed by government not schools already at financial breaking point after over a decade of brutal austerity.

The ballot win was the result of thousands of meetings across 25,000 schools and a massive centralised operation of targeted communications.

Whilst teacher members won their ballot, unfortunately the support staff ballot fell a couple of percent short, with 85% voting in favour of striking on a 47% turnout - a massive mandate In literally any other election!

It is also notable that the NEU was the only education union to win their ballot, with the head teachers union falling 2% short and considering a reballot, and the NASUWT missing the threshold by a greater margin. Whilst NEU teachers going it alone is not ideal, the appetite for action across education was demonstrated by the 45,000 new NEU members who joined between the ballot result and the first day of strike action.

The strike day itself was inspirational! 40,000 teachers marched in London, 9,000 in Bristol and 10,000s more joining hundreds of demos in their towns and cities. Solidarity from parents and other unions was noticeable, with a large contingent of FBU firefighters joining the 6,000 teachers marching in Sheffield. Particularly notable were the hundreds of members who turned out at Education Secretary Gillian Keegan’s usually sleepy constituency of Chichester - allegedly to be the focus of larger actions in future. An exciting new development has been the organising of picket lines - something which has not traditionally happened in national education disputes. The next 3 days of strike action (with each NEU region joining one of the 3 days of action) were very similar in terms of participation and impact.

These strikes are particularly welcome given the wider context in education. Workload is on the rise, academy trusts are chipping away at long-held terms and conditions and the nature of education for pupils is changing drastically. A move towards a competitive exam & discipline driven culture is not  creatively alienating for teachers but robs pupils of a broad, discursive curriculum. The sort of curriculum that would be necessary for them to develop a love of learning and engage critically with society. It also further fuels a mental health epidemic amongst youth who are increasingly stressed by academic targets.

All of these issues, stemming from the neoliberal assault on education are best fought in the workplace, and the normalising of pickets as part of a national dispute will give many members the confidence to take action on workplace level issues.

Morale is high, the anger is there and numerous surveys continue to show parental support for the strikes. We now move towards our 5th and 6th days of action, with March 15th shaping up to be an absolutely massive national demonstration in London to coincide with the Spring budget.

Our side is looking strong going into the next phase of action, but the question remains what intensity of action will be needed to win against a Tory government hellbent on using their last year in power to inflict as much damage on our class as possible, and if the leadership will be willing to take it. ■

At the time of print, Welsh members of the NEU had accepted the Welsh government’s offer of an 8% pay rise, with 73% support. But in England, members rejected the government’s “insulting” offer of a 4.3% pay rise by a landslide 98%. The Tory government had planned to deduct the pay rise from the national school budget, stretching their already thin margins even thinner. English teachers are set to strike again from 27 April to 2 May.

Audio reading by Nufi

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