Monday, 26 September 2022

FAQs - why NEU members should vote for action

With the preliminary ballots for NEU Support Staff members, and in Sixth Form Colleges already open, the NEU's electronic vote for teachers in state schools opened this weekend. Already tens of thousands have voted. Now we all need to drive that vote up until we smash through the 50% threshold that will be needed in the further, fully postal ballot required to call a strike under the Tories' anti-union legislation. 

Many members understand straight away why they need to vote for action but some may have a few queries before they do. Here's answers to four of the questions that I have come across in speaking to members in my District:

WILL STRIKING MAKE ME LOOK BAD WITH MY HEAD AND PARENTS?

No. There's no reason to feel awkward about taking strike action. It's your legal right to do so, as long as we win the ballot with a high enough turnout. Our action would be a national strike to campaign to win a fully-funded pay rise. It's not directed against your Head or your school, in fact it would help your school by making sure they had improved funding and fewer problems with retaining and recruiting staff.

Of course, parents will be inconvenienced by a strike but, as railworkers and postal workers have found when they have taken strike action over the summer, with everyone's cost of living rising, there's a widespread understanding that trade unions have no choice but to take action. We will also produce information for parents and governors so that they can read the facts about our campaign.

CAN WE AFFORD TO STRIKE?

With the cost of energy, transport, food and housing rising steeply, and inflation forecast to rise even further by 2023, can we afford not to? If we don't take action - especially when other unions are - that will only encourage this government to think they can keep cutting school budgets, holding down our pay, and piling on yet more scrutiny and workload.

Strike action has already won victories for trade unions in a number of local disputes. Even the threat of action has just won an improved pay offer for Scottish council workers - including school support staff - and over £400 million in extra funding to pay for it too.

HOW CAN SCHOOLS AFFORD TO PAY MORE?

The government's 'mini-budget' has shown it has money to spend - but it will need action to persuade them to direct some of it into education, instead of towards tax cuts for the wealthy. 

It's not a question of ‘either’ pay ‘or’ school funding - our campaign is to win both. So, don’t be put off voting for a pay rise because you fear school budgets won't be able to cope. The battles for better pay and for better school funding are two sides of the same coin. Strike action is the most powerful way of winning both.  

CAN STRIKE ACTION WIN?

Yes. With support staff unions consulting over pay, and the NASUWT teaching union also talking about action, NEU members can vote for action with confidence that our action could be taken across school staff, and alongside other unions in the public and private sectors too. 

We won't be alone. With inflation rising, the government is under growing pressure to act. Our action can make it think again on pay.

So, keep talking to your colleagues and make sure everyone has voted - and voted YES to action. EiS members in Scotland have just secured a 78% turnout, with 91% voting in favour of strike action - can we do the same?

You can download a Socialist Party in Education bulletin containing some of the key information about the ballots here.


Thursday, 24 March 2022

Listen to the voices of protest in Blackpool

Watch a full-length video of the protests here.

On a welcome day of sunshine, hundreds of trade unionists, NHS campaigners , RMT and P&O strikers and disability and anti-fracking activists marched in Blackpool on Saturday 19 March. With samba band and trade union and climate banners prominent, we marched from the Comedy Carpet opposite Blackpool Tower to the Winter Gardens where the Tories were holding their spring conference.

This was a chance to protest against the Tories ruthless squeeze on livings standards and their attempt to make workers pay the cost of the Covid through a cost of living crisis. Darren Proctor of the RMT union spoke powerfully on behalf of a contingent of P& O strikers ; the RMT and now Nautilus union both in dispute with P & O Ferries since their ruthless ‘fire and hire’ and the sacking of hundreds of their workers. Darren received rapturous applause for his call for solidarity.

Ian Hodson from BFAWU at the Saturday rally

The rally gathered outside the Tory conference and was chaired by Lynn Goodwin , President of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Trades Council BFWTUC with speakers including the Trades Council secretary Ken Cridland and others from the various campaigns represented. Socialist Party members who spoke included Chris Baugh, Jenny Hurley, Marion Lloyd and myself.

Pointing at the Tories in the Winter Gardens

The TUC had called a national mobilisation outside the Tory party conference on 19 March in Blackpool.  In an unfortunate impression of The Grand Old Duke of York, they decided to call it off three weeks later.  But the need to protest against the Tories was as strong as ever. So through the BFWTUC, alongside Lancashire trades councils, Unite branches in the region, NHS protestors who also  provided an ad-van which was driven round the town calling for opposition to the Health Care Bill, climate activists involved in the successful anti-fracking protests in the area all came together and decided the protest should go ahead.

Marching through Blackpool on Saturday 19 March

Blackpool is a famous destination for working class holidaymakers that has seen gradual economic decline from the seventies onwards. A 2019 government report showed eight of the ten poorest neighbourhoods in England are in the town of Blackpool. With Middlesbrough, Blackpool has the highest level of child poverty. Yet in the past decade a massive £180 million has been cut from the Blackpool council budget.

Sacked P&O workers on the march

Austerity in the form of deep cuts in health, local government and civil service jobs, combined with the vigorous enforcement of DWP sanctions policy, has had a devastating effect, particularly on the poorest and most vulnerable families in Blackpool.

The TUC were wrong to cancel the demonstration. The protest defied the most optimistic expectations and had an impact not seen in Blackpool for many years. While it has helped build support for trade unionism , a living wage of £15 an hour and the fight for climate jobs rather than any renewed attempts to start fracking, the protest confirmed the need for the TUC to call for mass protests around the March/Demo they have called for 18  June.



Friday, 18 February 2022

We need a timescale for a ballot for action to win on pay

For the last few weeks, NEU Branch Officers and school reps have been working hard to encourage teacher members to respond to an online survey about pay. In the end around 70,000 members, a little under 30% of those who had been polled, responded to the texts and emails sent to them nationally.

This was a very good initial turnout, particularly given that a turn towards campaigning on pay had only recently been made by the Union. A 0% ‘pay freeze’ had been imposed on teachers paid under the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document for the previous 2021 pay award without the Union responding in the way that is now being done. Despite the short lead-in to the survey, 74% of those voting were already saying they would support strike action over pay.

Two NEU branches, East Riding and Redbridge, even managed to exceed the 50% turnout that would eventually be needed in a formal strike ballot under the anti-trade union legislation, showing how other branches could also improve their turnout with the right approach, support and organisation.

The Executive agrees we will need to ballot – but when?

On Thursday, 10th February, a special meeting of the NEU Executive met to discuss the overall response and to plan the next steps in the pay campaign. Important steps were agreed but, in my view, a key step was missing, and that was to agree a clear timescale for proceeding to a ballot for strike action.

A timescale for a ballot is not just a small detail, it is a key part to any pay campaign. Of course, NEU reps and officers can, and will, encourage members to take part in the demonstrations, rallies and other activities that were agreed by everyone on the Executive. However, in all those activities, it will be important to explain to members that we will need to vote for, and firmly enact, strike action if we are really to influence this Government and warn off its big business backers calling for Ministers to maintain ‘wage restraint’.

A timescale provides a sense of urgency and an assurance to members that it’s important for them to attend the demos and rallies, because they are part of a serious campaign to win our pay demands - of an 8% pay rise over both of the next two years across all points on the pay scales. It also gives a clear idea to busy branch officers, reps and staff as to what priority needs to be given to updating addresses, holding meetings and other preparations.

When I heard that the Executive had not agreed any timescale, and posted criticism on my personal Facebook page last week, I received angry responses from members of the majority ‘NEU Left’ group on the Executive including accusations that I was ‘misrepresenting’ what was agreed.

This has since been followed by an article on the NEU left blog that criticises “some in the union who don’t support [the agreed] strategy, calling instead for an immediate indicative ballot. Some of those people have said that the Executive have ruled out strike action. Nothing could be further from the truth. We question the motivation behind this spreading of misinformation”.

Now that’s quite a serious accusation and, although nobody is specifically named, presumably aimed in part at me. So let me explain further as to why, no, I am not spreading misinformation [on the contrary, as I explain below, no Executive amendment actually called for an “immediate indicative ballot”] but, yes, I am raising questions and concerns. I do so not light-mindedly, but because, at a time when prices are rising so rapidly, alongside pay cuts through national insurance increases, a failure to win on pay would be so serious for so many members.

What was agreed by the Executive – and was voted down

What was agreed by the Executive was a commitment “to put every effort nationally, regionally and locally to put ourselves in a position to call and win a national ballot at the earliest possible opportunity”.

But the Executive still needs to clarify what timescale they are looking at and how that relates to the timetable for the Government and the Review Body to make decisions over teachers’ pay.

As has now become their standard practice, the Government are likely to announce the next pay award in late July. But, this time, they are going to impose a two-year pay award for 2022/3 and 2023/4. Therefore, our strategy needs to have maximum impact before July.

Recognising this, a ballot timetable crafted to allow strike action to take place in July was put to the February Executive. It proposed that the next half-term, up until Easter, should be used to share best practice amongst reps and branches and identifying areas in need of further support. 

Meetings, rallies and demonstrations, such as the one now called by the TUC on 19 March, could be used to increase confidence and engagement, building on members' concrete experience of rising bills and falling incomes.

All these steps would be preparation for launching an indicative ballot from April’s Annual Conference. The indicative ballot would then have been followed by an emergency National Executive meeting on 14 May, hopefully agreeing it was in a position to move to the formal ballot needed to sanction strike action before the end of term.

However, this proposal was only supported by a minority of Executive members. This decision effectively rules out any chance of building for national strike action by July. This, I believe, is a missed opportunity and presents a complication. The Union will now have to take action to persuade the Government to reverse its decision, rather than before it is made.

A clear announcement needed by the Union

I appreciate that the NEU Left majority on the Executive believe the Union would not be ready to win the necessary turnout and majority by July. But when do they think “the earliest possible opportunity” will be? What timescale is the Union working towards?

The NEU left blog concludes that the agreed strategy “will include moving to an indicative ballot – whether in the autumn term or sooner if we judge the mood is strong enough and we can win it”. Leading NEU Left member Alex Kenny has written to officers in London stating that “the fact that we may be looking at a two year pay award gives us a longer timeframe over which we can map this campaign”. But will a full ballot be launched early enough to give members confidence that an inadequate two-year pay deal can be reversed, and not become seen as a fait accompli?

Postponing a national ballot doesn’t guarantee generating greater momentum, delay can also see it being lost. By constantly telling activists that a majority can’t be won, and postponing action to some undefined future date, there is a danger that some in the Union conclude that national action can never be taken. Our strategy then becomes only one of building workplace-by-workplace, following the Union’s long-term ‘VEVE orientation’, but never brings members together in united action.

This would be a one-sided strategy that risks demoralising activists and failing members. Of course, we need to build workplace strength and rep density and organisation but the key drivers of pay, workload and funding cannot be tackled at a workplace level alone, they require national action. A serious campaign for a national ballot can help build at workplace level and vice versa.

After responding in such high numbers to the initial survey, NEU members now need a clear message about how the Union intends to, not just protest, but win on pay, reversing any two-year pay cuts imposed on teachers in July. It also needs to make clear to support staff members how we are planning to organise around their pay award as well.

Now that a timetable seeking to take national action before the pay award is announced has been rejected, is it not now time to make clear to members, and the Government, that the NEU will however ballot for action in the autumn term if our pay demands are not met? Such an announcement would give the whole union a timescale to build around.

Sunday, 2 January 2022

NEU Member Survey - say yes to action on pay

WORKLOAD AND INFLATION GOES UP, INCOMES FALL

This term promises to start just as last term finished. School staff will be under intolerable pressure from incessant workload and Covid absences. Yet, in return for all our efforts, our real incomes are sharply falling as the cost of living rises. Fuel prices are set to rise further, as are the costs of mortgage payments.

Many support staff and supply colleagues are already struggling. The hourly rate of a newly qualified teacher working 50-60 hours a week, but being paid less than £2,200 a month, is at minimum wage levels.

Years of below inflation pay awards show how little value is being placed on both educators and education by this Government. It’s time to demand change. WE DESERVE BETTER. EDUCATION DESERVES BETTER. 

VOTE YES FOR ACTION IN THE NEU SURVEY

Between now and July, the School Teachers’ Review Body will be deliberating over what pay increase they will recommend teachers get in September 2022. Once again, this Government will be telling them to keep any increase to a minimum. They certainly won’t be looking to match an inflation rate that could soon be as high as 6%. In short, we are set for another pay cut – unless we take action to win our pay demands.

The NEU Executive wants to know how strongly you feel about how badly educators are being treated. That’s why a survey is being sent out to the email address on your union record from 14 January. It’s vital that you, and as many of your colleagues as possible, return the survey and SAY YES TO ACTION ON PAY.

Download the flyer drafted by Socialist Party in Education for use by NEU Officers and Reps as a pdf, jpg or an editable word document from this folder

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Agency Workers Regulations - Myth Busters

MYTH BUSTERS - What to say when you’re told you haven’t got a case … when you have!

Download these posts as A4 leaflets:
Myth Buster 1, and
Myth Buster 2:

MYTH ONE:

“Schools can pay agency teachers what they like because ‘pay portability’ no longer applies”

When an agency teacher starts to raise their rights to be paid ‘to scale’ after 12 weeks, under the Agency  Workers Regulations (AWR), they may well be told that they definitely haven’t got a case because ‘pay portability’ no longer   applies. That phrase refers to legislation that was removed from the School Teachers’ Pay & Conditions Document (STPCD) in 2013.

That worsening of the STPCD means that permanent teachers starting work at a new school are no longer automatically entitled to be paid at least at the same salary point that they were on in their previous job. Academies have always been allowed to operate outside the STPCD in any case. 

But none of this means that schools can automatically ignore the AWR and pay their agency teachers what they like after 12 weeks. 

What does official guidance say?

The main AWR guidance for hirers of agency workers is issued by the ‘BEIS’ Government Department. It says:

“Deciding what “equal treatment” means will usually be a matter of common sense – the requirement is simply to treat the worker as if he or she had been recruited directly to the same job”.

It also gives the following advice “where a hirer has pay scales or pay structures”:

“A hirer has various pay scales to cover its permanent workforce, including its production line. An agency worker is recruited on the production line and has several years’ relevant experience. However the agency worker is paid at  the bottom of the pay scale. Is this equal treatment?

Yes, if the hirer would have started that worker at the bottom of the pay scale if recruiting him or her directly. But if the worker’s experience would mean starting further up the pay scale if recruited directly, then that is the entitlement.

Starter grades which apply primarily, or exclusively, to agency workers may not be compliant if not applied generally to direct recruits.

In short, if a school says it will only pay an agency teacher at, say, an M1 rate, then it will need to show that it also recruits new permanent staff at M1 too.

Each case needs to be argued on the specific policy and/or practice in that school, not on the STPCD in general.

What does the school policy say?

In order to help recruitment, many schools have retained ‘pay portability’ in their pay policies, despite the changes made to the STPCD.

A clear cut way to show that an AWR claim is justified is to show that the school’s own pay policy states that ‘pay portability’ applies and/or that previous    experience is taken into account when recruiting new staff.  

Rush v Academics Ltd 3202251/2020

With the right advice, Jenna Rush, an agency teacher working in a Multi Academy Trust in Outer London, used the wording of  the Trust’s pay policy to successfully win her AWR claim.

Jenna was an experienced “post-threshold” teacher returning to work after a career break. She taught for most of the 2019/20 academic year at three primary schools run by the Arbor Trust. Her pay rate through ‘Academics Ltd’ agency was £140 a day, including holiday pay.

In April 2020, she found out about the AWR and queried her pay rate. The agency agreed to  adjust her pay, but only to the STPCD rate for  an M1 Outer London teacher - £145.41 a day. Jenna Rush argued that, under the AWR, after 12 weeks she should have been paid at the U1 daily rate for Outer London, £212.40.

She won! An Employment Tribunal ruled that:

“There is nothing in the Regulations that says that an agency worker, regardless of their skills and experience, should be treated as standing in the position of a newly qualified worker, once they have completed their 12 weeks employment. The question is what  was the Claimant’s entitlement, with all her skills and years of experience, had the Trust  recruited her directly for the post of qualified Primary Art Teacher”.

“Nothing in the evidence supports the position that her entitlement was to M1”

“The Trust’s policy states as follows: ‘The school is committed to the principle of pay portability and will apply this principle in   practice when making all new appointments’ ”

“It is this Tribunal’s judgment that [Ms Rush] is entitled to remedy for her successful complaint of unlawful deduction of wages. [She] should have been paid at U1 for the period 1 January 2020 until the date she left in July 2020. As she has already been paid at M1 level for that period, the Claimant is entitled to be paid the difference between M1 and U1”. 

What if the school policy isn’t clear? 

The Rush vs Academics Ltd claim was certainly helped by the Arbor Trust policy specifically  referring to ‘the principle of pay portability’. But what if the school pay policy isn’t that clear-cut? 

A Tribunal won’t just look at policy, it will also look at the actual practice being carried out in the school, Trust or Local Authority for setting the pay of newly appointed staff. The key question is always: ‘if the school had been recruiting the agency teacher directly, what pay point would they have been awarded?’

A school can’t assert that “we can pay you what we want” if an agency teacher can show that, in practice, when it recruits permanent staff, it does take experience into account and starts them at higher points on its pay scale. 

If they say it’s individually negotiated, then why hasn’t that taken place with agency teachers? As the Rush Tribunal states “[She] was entitled to have the benefit of a conversation with the [Agency] and the Trust at the 12 week mark as to what would have been the appropriate wage for her. She was denied that benefit”.

In practice, how many schools appoint all their new recruits to the bottom of their pay scale? Very few, if any, because they wouldn’t be able to recruit to their vacancies! However, the more evidence that can be provided to support the teacher’s case, the stronger the claim can be.

Useful evidence for the agency teacher and their trade union rep to gather can include:

School pay policy - even if it doesn’t mention ‘pay portability’ specifically, what does it say about how starting rates for new recruits are agreed? 

Adverts - from the school or the wider Trust/Local Authority that show appointments to permanent teaching posts are being made at higher points on the scale. (For example, Jenna Rush provided, as additional evidence, the advert the Trust used to recruit a new Art Teacher after she ceased working there. It included the full salary range from M1 – U3).

Evidence from other teachers - about what pay rates they were appointed to, about the practice in school for recognising experience.

***

MYTH TWO:

“Schools can pay agency teachers at lower rates because they don’t carry out a permanent teacher’s duties”

When an agency teacher starts to raise their rights to be paid ‘to scale’ after 12 weeks, under the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR), some schools and/or agencies will argue that they have no such right because a supply teacher doesn’t do ‘the same work’ as permanent teachers. These claims are excuses designed to keep down the costs of employing a qualified teacher and deny them their AWR rights.

The teacher - and their union rep - should stick to their guns and demand the pay to which they are entitled. 

What do some agencies say?

“If an agency worker has worked at your school for 12 weeks but only on a daily supply basis, it’s unlikely that AWR will be  applicable. The worker will invariably be undertaking a substantially different role each time they come to your school and should not, therefore, be   entitled to equality of pay under the AWR”. ‘PK Education’ website.

The example above, taken from one agency’s website, is typical of the kind of
arguments that are made. Whatever the exact words used, they all boil down to the same claim - that an agency teacher is carrying out a very different role to a permanent teacher, and so isn’t entitled to the same pay and conditions.

What does the law say?

Section 5 of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 sets out how, after the qualifying period of 12 weeks, an agency worker is entitled to the same basic pay and conditions as they would have received if they had been recruited directly. 
In order to establish those entitlements, the Regulations refer to “a comparable employee … engaged in the same or broadly similar work”.

Of course, an agency teacher’s duties might not be exactly identical to those    of a permanent classroom teacher with, say, a tutor group. On the other hand, agency staff  have pressures on them that a permanent teacher doesn’t have to face, often having to learn and adapt at short notice to different systems operating in different assignments. 

Above all, the “broadly similar work” that both the directly recruited and agency teacher carry out is clear - it’s classroom teaching - and the agency teacher is entitled to be paid as such.

What about official guidance?

The main AWR guidance for hirers of agency workers is issued by the ‘BEIS’ Government Department. It says:

It is not necessary to look for a comparator. Deciding what “equal treatment” means will usually be a matter of common sense - the requirement is simply  to treat the worker as if he or she had been  recruited directly to the same job. 

Equal treatment … covers basic working and employment conditions. They are those which are ordinarily included in relevant contracts (or associated documents such as pay scales … ) of direct recruits”.

The pay and conditions that must be applied under the AWR are those that ordinarily apply in that school - i.e. the standard pay scales that apply to direct recruits. For agency teachers, the entitlement is to the teachers’ pay scales applying in that school.

What about “specified work” ? 

Some schools and agencies argue that agency teachers are not carrying out “specified work” so aren’t entitled to be paid as teachers. They may refer to this advice from the DfE guidance on the Agency Workers Regulations: 

Teaching Pupils. If the school asks a temporary work agency to provide a teacher    to carry out specified  work in a school and the person engaged to do the work is a qualified teacher they should be paid as a qualified teacher … “Specified work” means planning, preparing and delivering lessons and courses to pupils and assessing and reporting on the development, progress & attainment of pupils”. 

There’s nothing in this advice that implies that agency teachers shouldn’t be paid on teachers’ pay scales. Far from it. It is saying that, if you are a qualified teacher, and you “teach pupils”, you should indeed be paid as a qualified teacher.

The idea of “Specified Work” comes from the Education (Specified Work) Regulations first introduced in 2003 following the then Labour Government’s “Workforce Agreement” introducing the idea of “cover supervisors” to take on some short-term absence cover.

Many employers will have agreed pay scales for cover supervisors. But this is not the work carried out by someone engaged as an agency teacher and these are not the scales that should apply to them under the AWR.

“Actively Teaching”  

The official 'WAMG Cover Supervision Guidance' made clear how ‘cover  supervision’ differs from ‘active teaching’:

“Cover supervision occurs when no active teaching is taking place and involves the supervision of pre-set learning activities in the absence of    a teacher:

1. Supervising work that has been set in accordance with the school policy

2. Managing the behaviour of pupils whilst they are undertaking this work to ensure a constructive environment

3. Responding to any questions from pupils about process and procedures

4. Dealing with any immediate problems or emergencies according to the school’s policies and procedures

5. Collecting any completed work after the lesson and returning it to the  appropriate teacher

6. Reporting back as appropriate using the school’s agreed referral procedures on the behaviour of pupils during the class, and any issues arising.”

An agency teacher is hired to ensure that far more than ‘supervision’, only responding to questions ‘about process’, is taking place. 

As a qualified teacher, they will be ‘actively teaching’, answering questions about ideas, explaining concepts, delivering lessons, assessing progress. They will indeed be carrying out activities that constitute “specified work” under the Regulations. 

To qualify for the AWR, the agency teacher will have been working on an assignment for over 12 weeks. Of course they will have been planning and preparing in order to be able to carry out their teaching work.  Yes, they may  be drawing on plans and resources provided to them, but that is simply recommended practice to reduce unnecessary workload.

Assert your rights to equal treatment!

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Organise to win the NEU's 8% pay demand

At long last, concrete steps are being taken by the National Education Union to build towards the national strike action that will be necessary to win a pay rise that reverses the continuing decline in teachers’ real salaries. But the delay in launching a clear campaign means that urgent steps now need to be taken at every level of the Union if we are going to ballot successfully for union-wide industrial action.

Download a PowerPoint (this version by NEU NEC member Sheila Caffrey)

Organise now so that we can win a national strike ballot

Ever since July, when the Government confirmed they would be imposing a 0% pay freeze on teachers’ pay in England for 2020/21 in England in July, the five Socialist Party members on the NEU’s National Executive, alongside others, have been pushing for the Union to launch a clear campaign to prepare for a national ballot. (See: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1150/33107/06-10-2021/neu-national-executive-agrees-campaign-on-pay).

It was a demand also taken up in my campaign for election as NEU Deputy General Secretary. In my election address, I spelt out that “we should already have responded with a plan of action” and warned that “hesitation only invites further attacks”.

Faced with rising prices, pressure has also been building from below. When teachers see their pay frozen, at the same time as even official inflation rates are rising to 5%, they expect their Union to be giving a lead! Of course, the cost of many essentials is rising even faster – like petrol and gas bills. Next April’s hike in National Insurance contributions will further eat into incomes.

Kevin Courtney sets out the NEU's 8% pay demand

NEU members will therefore be pleased to see Kevin Courtney, Joint NEU GS, taking to social media to call for a fully-funded 8% pay rise for teachers, both in 2022 and 2023. Not only would such a pay award start to reverse the years of real-terms decline in teacher incomes, it would also make sure that the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) had met its own recommendation of an initial starting salary of £30,000 for newly qualified teachers.

This follows the meeting of the NEU National Executive last month where, for the first time, there was a serious discussion about how to urgently mobilise across the whole Union. Executive members are now being urged to brief branches about the campaign, and to build for reps’ briefings in the New Year. By then, the Government will also have issued its remit to the STRB for the 2022 pay award, so members will know concretely the size of the threat we face for next year’s pay too.

While these moves are welcome, a real sense of urgency is now required to make up for lost time. As things stand, the latest campaign email issued to members still fails to mention a national pay campaign at all! That has to urgently change. Winning on pay must become a priority focus for all, staff, local officers and activists alike.

No section of the Union can be allowed to drag their feet over the issue. Nor must the members’ survey planned for mid-January be used as an excuse to back away from action. It’s inevitable that, with such a short run-in to the survey, turnout will not yet be at the levels needed to beat the legal thresholds in a formal strike ballot. Instead, Socialist Party members on the NEU NEC are urging that the survey is seen as part of an escalating campaign and used as an opportunity to identify both areas of strength and those where we need to build more engagement.

A timetable for action

A good turnout in a January survey could then be built further in a full indicative ballot later next term. NEU Annual Conference over Easter could then be used to launch a formal strike ballot with maximum press publicity.  Such a timetable would allow mass NEU strike action to take place to put maximum pressure on Government before the STRB issue their pay recommendations in July.

Such a bold campaign could not only help to win the NEU’s pay demands but also start to reverse the “race-to-the bottom” for all workers. That will also need to include winning for support and supply staff members of the NEU who have seen their already low incomes falling further.

It can also start to rebuild the confidence and organisation of NEU members as a whole, spurring on our fight on all the other issues we face, like workload, testing, safety and academisation.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Thank you for your support in the DGS election

Here's a video that I released just after the result of the NEU Deputy General Secretary election was announced:

https://youtu.be/h3wYVz_w5kY



The analysis below, written by myself and other colleagues, was published in 'The Socialist' on 3rd November 2021. Please get in contact if you would like to discuss further:

"For the first time, members of the National Education Union (NEU) have had the opportunity to vote for a deputy general secretary. In the ballot, which concluded on 29 October, the candidate of the majority 'NEU Left' leadership bloc on the union's national executive, Gawain Little, was defeated.

Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies, standing on a fighting programme, won a quarter of the first preference votes. (The NEU uses a transferable voting system, which means voters put candidates in order of preference). The election was won by Niamh Sweeney, former president of the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) section of the NEU.

Teachers and support staff have been on the frontline of the fight against Covid for 18 months, and continue to be so. In a cruel attack by the Tories, teachers in England have been hit with a pay freeze this year, while support staff and teachers in Wales got a miserly 1.75%.

At the start of 2021, a national lead on the coordinated use of 'Section 44' workplace safety legislation defeated the Tories and forced them into a U-turn over Covid safety. The NEU reported that 400,000 people participated in an online briefing and tens of thousands joined the union.

Yet fewer than 28,000 NEU members out of an overall electorate of 422,585 voted in this election, a turnout of only 6.6%.

This is the result of a leadership that was pushed by pressure from the members to act at the start of the year, but has failed to show the same boldness over the ongoing threats to pay and workload.

As the nomination meetings during the deputy general secretary election themselves showed, many district meetings are attended by only a dozen or so members. What it revealed is that the union has to build from below through campaigns that engage and involve union reps and members.

Due to the NEU Left's influence among many district leaderships, Gawain Little won a clear majority of nominations, but the vote shows that in reality that bloc has very shallow roots among the wider membership.

Of course, there can be broad unity around general ambitions for a better-funded, child-centred education system, but what the 'NEU Left' leadership group lacks is a clear strategy for achieving those goals. As the response to the latest attacks on pay has shown, they demonstrate a deep lack of confidence in the NEU ever managing to overcome the ballot thresholds needed to achieve national action.

Instead, the union increasingly resorts to campaigns that ask members to do little more than send emails and sign petitions, in essence making hopeful appeals to politicians to 'do the right thing' for education. It is an approach that reveals an underestimation of the steely determination of the Tories and their backers to cut the costs of public services and atomise and undermine trade unions, not least in education.

Niamh Sweeney comes from the previous ATL legacy union which joined with the National Union of Teachers in 2017. While she portrayed herself as an 'independent' candidate without the backing of 'factions', she is a Labour councillor and has been congratulated by the likes of Blairite/Starmerite MP Wes Streeting - who has stood aside while NEU members strike at Oaks Park school in his Redbridge constituency.

Niamh highlighted some of the key issues for members, such as excessive workload. She will also have gained support for being a woman in a union where women are a big majority of the membership. However, adopting the timid approach previously adopted by the ATL will fail to find answers to those issues.

Joining the NUT and the ATL together into a new NEU union potentially increased union strength, bringing together a larger membership embracing both teaching and support staff. However, it also risked the conservative approach of the ATL, one that had failed to grow its membership, having more influence, particularly within the NEU's union bureaucracy. That influence has indeed grown and may now seek to assert itself further.

A rightward drift to a 'service-led union', rather than being a lay-led fighting union based on workplace strength and collective action, would be disastrous for NEU members.

Martin Powell-Davies won a quarter of the first preference vote, standing as a socialist candidate with a proven record, taking only a teacher's salary, and offering a clear strategy to win on pay, workload and funding based on collective action.

Martin set out a strategy emphasising building workplace strength, but also on bringing members together to take national action, rather than leaving them to struggle in isolation. The union needs to campaign and organise to win a new national contract that can improve pay, workload and conditions for all NEU members. Immediately, it needs to urgently organise to build action against the clear threat to impose yet another real-terms pay cut on school staff.

The NEU's latest 'Value Education, Value Educators' campaign is, rightly, also calling for districts to turn towards the workplace and to make sure the union is seen as relevant to the wider membership. But the way that the campaign is being sold as a "five-year orientation" demonstrates an ongoing lack of confidence and a lack of urgency in building collective action.

It is not enough to put all the responsibility onto hard-pressed workplace reps and union groups to try and organise small victories in their own workplaces. Yes, individual victories are needed, but real gains, and a real defence against the further attacks to come, require a clear and confident lead from the top of the union.

Martin Powell-Davies would have helped to provide such a lead. But, without such a clear lead from the top, the importance of building from below is now even greater.

Those who came together around the Martin4DGS campaign should continue to work together to offer a fighting alternative way forward"