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.
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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.