“Our campaign to demand an inflation busting pay rise, fully funded from the government rather than already overstretched school budgets, continues throughout the summer term.”
By Logan Williams
On January 15th my union, the National Education Union (NEU), announced strike action over the government’s unfunded and below inflation pay rise. The NEU membership’s decision to back strike action was a response to years of real terms funding cuts to school budgets and workers’ wages which has resulted in a similar crisis to that of the NHS – a system run into the ground.
Across the profession we know that teachers work on average 50+ hours a week, including on weekends and holidays, for ever decreasing real terms pay. Whilst their success is measured through the pressures of an OFSTED visit. These conditions have resulted in the perfect storm at both ends of the profession – with missed recruitment targets and mass numbers leaving the profession mostly within the first five years since qualifying.
Our action represented the largest group of workers to take strike action during the strike wave that has emerged since 2022. We joined nurses, railway workers, posties, university staff and others in an increasingly widening trade union led struggle over public services during the cost of living crisis.
Our first strike day, 1st February, was a coordinated day of action alongside UCU, PCS, RMT and ASLEF members in various other industries within the national TUC day of action against the government’s proposed plans to ban effective strike action in certain sectors. According to the Department of Education, 54% of all schools were closed or partially closed – this figure rising to 84% of all secondary schools on the first day of strike action. This colossal day of action was followed by a series of regional strike days which saw teachers across England and Wales gather in demonstrations across the country to place pressure on the government to invest in education.
The NEU’s next major strike day took place on the 15th of March which would see a co-ordinated united front of large sections of the labour movement making a very different kind of Budget Day statement to the one offered by Jeremy Hunt and the Tories. This inspiring day of action would see over half a million workers take to picket lines and the streets in a national march and rally in London to escalate the fight for fair pay. These striking workers ranged from NEU teaching staff members to PCS civil service members, UCU lecturers, Junior Doctors from the BMA, Prospect public sector members, local reporter members of the NUJ and, both ASLEF and RMT members on the London Underground.
Despite these history making days of action, our campaign to demand an inflation busting pay rise, fully funded from the government rather than already overstretched school budgets, continues throughout the summer term. We have seen two strike days taken either side of the May Day Bank Holiday before a break in our action for summer exams for Years 11 and 13. These strike days have seen a variety of local actions ranging from street stalls to targeted rallies in Government MP’s constituencies, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg’s constituency of North East Somerset, to demonstrate the anger felt by the education profession across schools.
Alongside undertaking these further days of action across the summer term, we are entering a pivotal moment in the campaign for fair funding across the education sector. Namely, winning a reballot of members to renew our mandate for a further six months. We must work to ensure that the energy placed into building our campaign so far is placed into building the re-ballot campaign to smash the Tories draconian anti-union laws. We must work to see that the 98% of NEU teacher members in England on a turnout of 66% which voted to reject the Tory pay offer do so again in the postal ballots launching on the 15th May to give our incoming General Secretary Daniel Kebede the strong mandate he needs to continue to progress our campaign.
However, these efforts to win the re-ballot will not be done in isolation, the National Association of Head Teachers will be launching their re-ballot on the 15th May. The decision to launch a re-ballot has been described by their General Secretary Paul Whiteman as showing how “fed up with their [school leaders] continued mistreatment by government, and they want to stand up and be counted” alongside their striking staff. The NEU and NAHT re-ballots will be joined by both the NASUWT and, ASCL unions as well as, a historic joint agreement to coordinate further action in this dispute to continue to escalate the fight for fair funding in education to ensure schools have the ability to provide the level of education our children and young people deserve.