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"

Friday, 10 September 2021

Why Martin for DGS?

I am standing to be NEU Deputy General Secretary because our Union needs clear and determined leadership if we are going to withstand the serious challenges ahead of us. 

More than any other DGS candidate, I believe that I have the  skills, experience, and campaigning record that can make us a stronger team.

Here's a video that gives just a flavour of the campaigns I have been involved in over many years:



If you'd like to listen to a longer interview, here's one I gave for a recent podcast for 'Lay Led Unions':

***

In order to 'declutter' my DGS campaign website, some of its extensive content needed to be removed but, to show that I have remained consistent, I've pasted below the text that I posted when we first launched the site in January. I think it still holds true now, as we prepare for the members' ballot in October that will decide who is the first ever elected DGS of the NEU:

 Years of funding cuts, pressure from Ofsted/Estyn and ‘exam factory’ conditions have already taken their toll. Now teachers and support staff face further attacks from a Government hoping to make us pay for their failures.

As DGS, I will work to build a Union that has the confidence, strength and organisation to defend the pay, jobs, safety and working conditions of education staff and, in doing so, defends education as whole.

Use union strength to defend staff and community safety.

Throughout the pandemic, I have consistently provided analysis explaining why we need to use our collective strength to defend safety.

The successful use of Section 44 in January showed what could be done when a clear national lead is given, giving confidence to members to act together. I will be a DGS that calls and organises for that collective approach to be followed in future too.

Where do the main differences lie in this election? 

Every candidate will propose changes that could improve our conditions, and pupils’ learning conditions. But the key question is, how can they be won?

The NEU has not been slow to make demands. Our problem has been that they have too often been ignored by employers and Ministers:

Our ‘5 tests’ for Covid Safety were not met - putting our health and safety at risk.

For years, we’ve complained about unreasonable workload - but it keeps getting worse.

Now we face a ‘pay freeze’ - are our demands for improved salaries going to be ignored too?

We need a clear national strategy. My ten campaign points set out what we need to organise and win.

A genuinely ‘lay-led’ democratic union.

Many are concerned that the Union is becoming too ‘top-down’ in its decision-making. I’ll be a DGS that says we must be “a lay-led Union” in practice, not just on paper.

I will strengthen our efforts to have trained, confident reps in every workplace, but I also know that reps need well-supported Districts to back them up. We need to better defend NEU Reps and Local Officers and their rights to facility time.

I will be a DGS that works to bring our union together in our workplace groups, Districts and Branches – alongside NEU staff  – with a belief that we can, and must, succeed in winning our demands.

A Deputy General Secretary you can trust to turn words into action

As a member of the NUT National Executive from 2010-15 and then as a successful NEU London Regional Secretary from 2016-19, I have worked within the Union at its highest levels.

I also have long experience of working at a local and workplace level too.

As Lewisham NUT Secretary for over 20 years,  I doubled local membership and supported hundreds of colleagues. I have organised many successful campaigns, opposing cuts and academisation, defending pay, jobs and workload, challenging racism.

I am still a teacher and local NEU officer today, now in the North-West, experiencing the pressures on members at first hand. I am regularly invited to put our case across to the press and media. 

The clear, determined leadership we need.

In short, my record shows that I can be a DGS that you can rely on to provide clear leadership.

I will listen and consult, keeping up a dialogue with Reps and Local Officers.

I will be a DGS that proudly builds our Union, that works as a full part of the NEU leadership team – as I did as Regional Secretary – but I will also be a DGS of independent mind, ready to question decisions and speak out when necessary.

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Thursday, 26 August 2021

NEU officers and reps need firm advice on Covid-19 for the new term

National NEU too slow in issuing updated advice for reps

In July, the NEU issued a Covid-19 update, assuring members and leaders that new advice would be published before the start of the new term. Reps were also advised to remind their leadership that risk assessments will need to be revised in time for the new year. But, with some schools and colleges already open after the summer, as yet no new advice has been issued. Instead, the latest NEU press releases lack the clarity and firmness that its reps and members need.

Today's National Union’s “Back to School” press release rightly states that the Government’s announcement of £25 million to procure CO2 monitors for schools is an admission that risks remain, but that they “will not arrive soon enough, and only diagnose problems not solve them”. But, if that’s the case, then NEU reps need clear advice on actions their schools should be taking right now.

Scotland already shows that infection rates will rise once schools reopen

Staff, school students, and their families understandably want the new academic year to be a return to ‘normality’ without the stress and disruption of the last eighteen months. But the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and the failure of Government to invest, means that sadly won’t be the case. Just as in September 2020, we will be returning to the same poorly ventilated, closely packed classrooms operating throughout the day, prime conditions for spreading an airborne virus”. (Why union groups must insist that schools reduce Covid risk’, 20/8/21) 

Since I posted that warning last week, news from Scotland has confirmed how the reopening of schools after the summer break is inevitably going to drive up infection rates again. In July, Independent SAGE had linked a decline in Scottish infection rates to the earlier start to their school holidays. But now, young people are mixing in schools again, 'fuelling' record case numbers according to BBC Scotland. Tellingly, around a third of the new cases have been in the under-19s age group.

Does this matter when so many adults are vaccinated? Absolutely it does. Yes, vaccinations have helped ensure that hospitalisation and death rates are much lower than they would have been, but protection is not guaranteed. A proportion of our diverse population will still suffer serious illness, and more again from long Covid, especially those who have existing conditions that leave them at greater risk. Even a small percentage of a large population of vaccinated adults - or unvaccinated children – still equates to significant numbers.

In the absence of National NEU advice (*see update below), here’s some suggested advice for risk assessments

Just as previously in the pandemic, schools have a responsibility to assess the ongoing risks from Covid-19, and then to take steps to mitigate them. In my earlier post, I outlined three key areas to consider for the new term:

(1) - Ventilation and Face Coverings

(2) - Isolation, Outbreaks and Contact Tracing

(3) - Staff and families at greatest risk

I have now compiled more detail on the above as suggestions for NEU Officers and Reps to raise urgently with their schools and employers. The advice - posted below - can be downloaded as a double-sided A4 briefing here.

Together with the workplace representatives of recognised trade unions, schools and colleges must act to reduce the ongoing risks from Covid-19:

(1) - Ventilation and Face Coverings

“Good ventilation is now widely accepted as being key to preventing the spread of Covid” (Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the NAHT, joint union press release, 17 August 2021)

The DfE have belatedly announced that they will be procuring £25million of CO2 monitors over the next term but, for now, few schools and colleges will have them in place. Even then, monitoring is only the start. Action then needs to be taken where poor ventilation is identified:

1.    Conduct an immediate audit of all classrooms and workspaces to assess the adequacy of ventilation and to set out the steps that can be taken to improve air flow in each case based on the HSE advice on ventilation & air conditioning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

2.    To assist this urgent risk assessment, rather than waiting solely for DfE promises, an initial supply of portable CO2 monitors should be purchased immediately by LAs/MATs.

3.    As was mandated for the start of term in Scotland, face coverings must similarly be worn by staff and students in secondary classrooms.

4.    Staff working in circumstances where there are particular risks, such as from children known to spit or bite, where children require intimate care or where staff may need to administer first aid, must be provided with appropriate PPE, including correctly graded face masks.

5.    Across all sectors, an assessment of other transmission risks, such as in corridors and communal areas, staffrooms, and at lunch and break times, should also be made, and steps taken to mitigate risks. Staff meetings should continue to be held online at present.

(2) - Isolation, Outbreaks and Contact Tracing

“[DfE guidance] appears to suggest that everyday contact in education settings …  is not going to be deemed close contact. This increases the risk that infections will go undetected, subsequently leading to more disruption and illness with the virus spreading more widely across schools”. (Letter from UNISON to Gavin Williamson, 18 August 2021)

If settings and employers only put in place the steps set out in the DfE’s latest operational guidance and contingency framework, Covid transmission will inevitably occur, leading to more disruption to education and infections amongst staff, students and our wider communities.

1.    The PHE guidance on actions to be taken by a ‘close contact’ should also be applied to unvaccinated young people who are below the age of 18 years 6 months in educational settings. They should NOT “continue to attend school as normal” as the DfE guidance advises but should “stay at home and self-isolate” as with other unvaccinated persons.

2.    Schools/Colleges should NOT rely only on a positive case or their parent to specifically identify close contacts as suggested in the DfE guidance. Instead, they should continue to identify close contacts on the following basis:

    anyone who lives in the same household as another person who has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19

    anyone who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:

o   face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre

o   been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact

o   been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day)

    A person may also be a close contact if they have travelled in the same vehicle as a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

3. Schools/Colleges SHOULD make plans to take “extra action if the number of positive cases substantially increases” as the DfE guidance suggests but SHOULD NOT wait for the DfE’s suggested thresholds – such as 10% of pupils and staff in a class – to do so. Those plans should include remote learning with funding to cover additional staffing/supply costs in order to manage the resulting workload. These are costs we must also all demand the DfE meets.

(3) - Staff and families at greatest risk

“School staff, some of whom will not be double vaccinated, or are in a vulnerable group, are also in some cases still at risk of serious illness”. (Joint Union letter to Gavin Williamson, 17 August 2021)

The absence of mitigations and the DfE’s reckless guidance will be causing real concern to staff and students who are at greater risk to serious illness, as well as to those who live with family members who face those risks too.

1.    Every member of staff who believes they, or a person they live with, are at a higher risk of illness from Covid-19 should be provided with an individual risk assessment.

2.    Individual risk assessments should list the protective measures that will be put in place to address those risks. These should include being able to work from home and funds should be set aside to cover for additional staffing/supply costs required to meet those needs.

3.    Schools/Colleges and employers should advocate the benefits to 16-17 year olds, as well as to adults, of getting vaccinated and drive for the widest uptake of vaccinations as possible.

4.    All children aged 12 to 15 years eligible for a vaccine – either those with a condition that means they’re at high risk or who live with someone who is more likely to get infections should be included in this drive too.

*Update: National NEU advice

After this post was published, offical joint union advice was issued on the NEU website - you can read it here.

I remain concerned that the advice lacks the firmness and clarity needed. For example, rather than clearly stating that unions are calling for face coverings to still be worn by staff and students in secondary classrooms, it only states that "secondary settings should ... urgently consider the case for continuing to require their wearing". It also fails to recommend that 'close contacts' isolate, as I have done above.

The joint union advice also links to some useful detailed guidance on ventilation and on individual risk assessments for those at higher risk.

Friday, 20 August 2021

Why union groups must insist that schools reduce Covid risk

Please also read further updated advice from 26 August on this blog here: 

We all want ‘normality’ but Covid risks are still far from ‘normal’

“We are heading into a new school year with infection rates 25 times higher, and hospitalisation rates 10 times higher, than this point last year and with most mitigations removed” (Letter from UNISON to Gavin Williamson, 18 August 2021)

Staff, school students, and their families understandably want the new academic year to be a return to ‘normality’ without the stress and disruption of the last eighteen months. But the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and the failure of Government to invest, means that sadly won’t be the case.

Just as in September 2020, we will be returning to the same poorly ventilated, closely packed classrooms operating throughout the day, prime conditions for spreading an airborne virus. Few young people have been vaccinated. Without mitigations in place, an acceleration of transmission in schools, and then back into school communities, is inevitable.

Relying on vaccinations alone is not a sufficient strategy

“Staff who are fully vaccinated are still at risk of catching the virus and potentially developing Long Covid, which is already afflicting tens of thousands of school staff” (Joint Union letter to Gavin Williamson, 17 August 2021)

Yes, vaccinations are certainly making a difference. They have helped make sure that hospitalisation and death rates are much lower than they would have been given our ongoing high infection rates. But protection is not guaranteed. A proportion of our diverse population will still suffer serious illness, especially those who have existing conditions that leave them at greater risk. 

Death and hospitalisation numbers have been rising since June. Even a small percentage of a large population of vaccinated adults - or unvaccinated children – still equates to significant numbers. These are risks that schools have a responsibility to assess – and then to seek to mitigate.

Insist on reducing risk (1) - Ventilation and Face Coverings

“Good ventilation is now widely accepted as being key to preventing the spread of Covid” (Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the NAHT, joint union press release, 17 August 2021)

Education unions have called on the DfE to urgently invest in ventilation measures in our schools, just like education authorities in countries like Germany and the USA have already done. The DfE have since belatedly announced that they will be procuring £25million of CO2 monitors over the next term but, for now, few schools and colleges will have them in place. Even then, monitoring is only the start. Action then needs to be taken where poor ventilation is identified. 

Having correctly identified the risk, unions now need to insist schools act to protect against airborne transmission. If CO2 monitors and air filters are not in place, the simplest and most effective mitigation is the wearing of face coverings in classrooms. As US ventilation expert Professor Shelly Miller advises “universal masking without portable HEPA air cleaners will do more to slow the spread of Delta variant than portable HEPA air cleaners without universal masking”.

Insist on reducing risk (2) - Isolation, Outbreaks and Contact Tracing

“[DfE guidance] appears to suggest that everyday contact in education settings – even when sitting alongside a positive case – is not going to be deemed close contact. This increases the risk that infections will go undetected, subsequently leading to more disruption and illness with the virus spreading more widely across schools”. (Letter from UNISON to Gavin Williamson, 18 August 2021)

Everyone wants disruption to education to stop. But declaring that close contacts under 18½ don’t have to self-isolate won’t stop disruption. Nor will failing to carry out contact tracing in schools, and nor will waiting until 5 individuals in a class test positive for COVID-19 before taking any action. Yet this is exactly what the latest DfE guidance advises, without providing any scientific justification.

As Unison’s letter to Gavin Williamson correctly warns, following DfE guidance simply means that infections will go undetected and transmission will spread, leading to more disruption and illness.  But again, having correctly identified the risk, unions now need to insist schools have in place safe systems for isolation, contact tracing and, when necessary, staffing to support online learning.

Insist on reducing risk (3) - Staff and families at greatest risk

“School staff, some of whom will not be double vaccinated, or are in a vulnerable group, are also in some cases still at risk of serious illness”. (Joint Union letter to Gavin Williamson, 17 August 2021)

The absence of mitigations and the DfE’s reckless ‘schools COVID-19 operational guidance’ will be causing real concern to staff and students who are at greater risk to serious illness, as well as to those who live with family members who face those risks too. The guidance does at least state that “no pupil should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering” and certainly no school management should prevent the voluntary wearing of masks.

Unions have made clear throughout the pandemic that high risk or vulnerable staff have a right to an individual risk assessment and protective measures being put in place to address those risks, including being able to work from home. But individual union members can best be backed by the strength of the collective union group insisting on an overall risk assessment that protects both individuals at greater risk as well as the health, safety and welfare of staff and students as a whole.

Download this advice as an A4 double-sided document here.



Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Oppose the Pay Freeze - but with action, not just words

After all that educators have done throughout the pandemic, the ‘reward’ that we have received from this Government has been a pay freeze for teachers and a miserly 1.75% for support staff. When inflation is heading towards 4%, these are real-terms pay cuts.

If we fail to respond to this insult with action, we will only be inviting more attacks - like a lengthening of the school day and yet further cuts being made to school and college funding.

Letters and petitions are not enough. We need to learn the lessons of how we forced a U-turn over Covid safety - by using the collective strength of the whole union acting together.

That's why I say:

Download and share as a leaflet
BRING UNIONS TOGETHER in a joint campaign to defend pay and public services

ORGANISE at every level of the Union so we are ready to win A NATIONAL BALLOT 

SUBMIT A CLAIM FOR A NEW NATIONAL CONTRACT for all staff - with binding pay scales, no performance pay, legal limits on overall working hours and class sizes

FULLY FUND SCHOOLS to meet needs

Accepting these pay cuts will only invite further attacks

The Government left it to the very end of last term to confirm that their ‘thank-you’ for all of the exhausting work we carried out throughout the pandemic would be to impose a 0% pay freeze on teacher salaries. 

Support staff had already been offered just 1.75% and teachers in Wales 1.75% too. Even NHS staff have only been awarded 3%. With the Bank of England predicting inflation at 4% by the end of the year, these are all actually pay cuts. 

But this pay injustice should come as no surprise. The pay freeze was first announced last November. Ministers waited to see what response they would get from the NEU and other unions. They obviously concluded that they could get away with it. We need to prove them wrong!

We are facing a callous, conniving Government that, having looked after their friends during the pandemic, now wants school and college staff, and the communities we support, to foot the bill through cuts to our pay and conditions - and to the learning conditions for our students.

If they succeed with imposing pay cuts, Ministers will only gain in confidence to deal us another blow. They are already threatening to extend the school day, worsening our contracts and workload yet further.

Letters and petitions alone will have no real effect. Instead, we need to learn the lessons from last January when, faced with NEU members invoking their Section 44 Health and Safety rights union-wide, Boris Johnson was forced into a U-turn over his unsafe school opening plans.

That’s why I believe we now need to act with confidence and determination and prepare for national action.

Organise to win a national ballot

The NEU rightly stresses the importance of building workplace strength. Important victories have been won by individual school and college groups taking strike action over the last year. But when we face a national attack, as we do over pay, then winning at a workplace level is not enough. We need to organise together nationally.

Of course, the Government has deliberately put a significant hurdle in the way of unions by imposing a 50% postal ballot turnout threshold for industrial action to proceed. But, if the NEU is going to be able to defend educators and education, it has to overcome that barrier. The job of a union leadership is to work out a plan to make sure we can do so. I am standing as NEU Deputy General Secretary to provide such a lead.

Martin’s strategy to win

Immediately, we need to make clear to both Ministers and educators that we aren’t accepting this attack lying down. Meetings and rallies need to be organised to explain and to convince NEU members of the need to act. They should be backed up with campaign materials for colleagues - and for parents and the public too.

Locally and nationally, we need to bring colleagues together from other unions, including in the NHS, to build a co-ordinated campaign of action, starting with  setting a date for a national demo.

We need to organise meticulously at every level of the Union to put in place the steps needed to ensure we are ready to proceed with a successful ballot, learning from NEU groups and other unions who have successfully met the thresholds.

If we are going to build for national action, we should also widen our demands beyond just the pay award. We should submit a claim for a new National Contract for all staff that includes binding pay scales on all employers and an end to performance pay. But our working conditions are just as important - perhaps more so for many staff given levels of workload. Our claim should also include a call for legal limits on both class sizes and on overall working hours, not just on teachers’ ‘1265’ directed hours. 

Finally, for schools to be able to both pay us properly and employ sufficient staff to meet pupil needs, our action needs to be part of a campaign to reverse cuts and win the funding that our schools and colleges need.

#Martin4DGS - ZOOM MEETING

Turn words into action - Build for a national ballot

Sunday September 26th - 16.00

Meeting ID: 890 2272 9469


Monday, 9 August 2021

IPCC issues "Code Red" for Humanity. We need global planning, not politicians' hot air

Today, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report confirming the disastrous damage that has already been done to the world's climate - and that the ongoing failure to seriously tackle global emissions means that the climate crisis is going to get worse.

Sadly, nothing in the Report should come as any surprise. But it is further evidence, if any is needed, that tackling climate change needs more than politicians' hot air, it requires rapid action to cooperatively plan global resources. As a socialist, I believe that means taking those resources out of the hands of big business who, in their drive for short-term profit, will never be able to act globally in the long-term interests of humanity.

Climate change was one of the topics I was asked to discuss as a guest on Nottingham's local Radio Dawn last week - here's what I had to say: