“It is a fight to build a strong & militant trade union movement, capable of winning back what has been taken from us over the past 40 years. It is a fight we must wage together & win together.”Daniel Kebede
Daniel Kebede, National Education Union National Officer, writes on the NEU’s preliminary ballot results as part of our #TUC2022 coverage.
At the end of last week, the National Education Union announced three significant preliminary ballot results. Support staff members voted 78% in favour of strike action on a 68% turnout. Teacher members voted 86% in favour of strike action on a 62% turnout. Sixth form college members voted 97% in favour of strike action on a 77% turnout. These results show the strength of feeling amongst educators over pay and, for teachers and support staff in state-funded schools, over education funding.
The attacks on teachers pay have been relentless, with classroom teachers losing over 20% since 2010, meaning they are effectively working one day a week for free. The latest pay award – 5% in the face of inflation running at over 11% – represents a further pay cut on top of this. The situation is worse for support staff, who are not only some of the lowest paid staff in the education system but who have lost even more of the value of their pay than teachers. A flat rate pay award of under £2,000 is completely insufficient and has been decisively rejected by our members.
What is more, the teachers’ pay award is unfunded, meaning that individual schools will have to find the 5% within their existing budgets. This means a further cut to children’s education and a significant threat to jobs, in particular for support staff. This is on top of swingeing cuts to education over the last 12 years, opposed by all education unions. There is nothing left to cut from school budgets – the same schools who are increasingly supporting children living in poverty. One in three children are now living in poverty while the government turns a blind eye and continues to condone the payment of poverty wages to their parents.
The attack on pay does not only affect teachers directly employed in the state sector. Independent sector pay is heavily determined by pay in the state sector and the impact this has on the job market, and supply teachers, whilst most are not paid to scale, will be directly affected by further cuts to the national teacher pay scales. Supply teachers face the double impact of cuts to the national rate, combined with the outrageous profits that agencies make – ripping off our members, whilst overcharging schools. And yet government anti-union laws prevent them from being balloted and taking strike action alongside directly-employed teachers. Many will simply lose a day’s pay for respecting the strike. But it is this determination to stand together, no matter the obstacles the government put in our way, that is our strength.
These attacks on pay in education are the direct responsibility of successive conservative-led governments since 2010. But their roots lie in the Thatcher governments of the 1980s. In 1987, following the end of the 1984-86 teachers’ dispute, the government unilaterally withdrew from collective bargaining arrangements and, since then, teachers have not had the right to sit opposite their employer and negotiate over pay. This was followed less than a year later by the 1988 Education Reform Act, which began the fragmentation and marketisation of our schools. Forcing down educators’ pay was combined with increasing control and narrowing of education itself.
They were not attacks that took place in isolation. Privatisation, fragmentation and redistribution from the working class to the rich were the watchwords from Thatcher, through New Labour to the Conservative governments of the last 12 years. Public services have been decimated, broken up and sold off. Workers in every sector have seen a massive drop in their standard of living and are increasingly subject to the precarity and uncertainty of the market.
The anti-union laws threatened by Truss and co will deepen this crisis, attacking workers’ rights whilst restricting their ability to fight back through their unions. This is a challenge we must face together. As a National Officer of the NEU over the past three years, I have spent much of my time on picket lines and at mass meetings, not just of NEU members but of RMT members and Unite members, CWU members and Unison members. I know that we are stronger when we fight together, and win together.
As we prepare to ballot our members in state-funded schools and sixth-form colleges we know this is not just a fight over educators’ pay. It is a fight over funding for schools and all public services. It is a fight to regain collective bargaining rights and to defend the right to strike. It is a fight in solidarity with those defending our rail service and our postal service. It is a fight to build a strong and militant trade union movement, capable of winning back what has been taken from us over the past 40 years. It is a fight we must wage together and win together.
- Daniel Kebede is the National Officer of the National Education Union. You can follow Daniel on Twitter here.