NUT union members at Small Heath School in Birmingham held a solid three-day strike last week in defence of victimised union rep Simon O’Hara.
Teachers plan two further three-day strikes, the first beginning next Tuesday.
The mood on the picket line was “very good”, a teacher reported. A constant stream of horns tooted solidarity from passing vehicles, and trade unionists from other workplaces stood with strikers on the picket line.
Bosses suspended Simon on 7 January after he had helped lead a number of strikes against the school becoming an academy.
For the union this is a clear attempt to victimise a rep—but not everyone sees it that way.
Senior figures in the local Labour Party attacked strikers last week and demanded they return to work. Birmingham Ladywood Labour MP Shabana Mahmood said the strikes were not “proportionate”.
But it is bosses who have been disproportionate. Not content with suspending Simon they suspended another NUT member a few weeks later.
Labour councillor for Selly Oak, Brigid Jones, said the NUT was “crossing a line” by striking to defend a union member.
She said the union should look to the disciplinary process to defend Simon instead of workers’ action.
But unions are right to strike to defend their members—and they should expect the Labour Party to back them up when they do.
Many strikers were rightly furious at the attacks from Labour on the picket lines last Wednesday. One teacher said, “There was a great deal of anger among strikers. There were a couple of people I thought might start to waver.
“But they said it had freshened them up and made them more angry.”
Many people, including some of Mahmood’s constituents, took to Twitter to denounce her attack on strikers. One said, “I am absolutely ashamed of you.”
Another tweeted, “Disappointed my MP doesn’t understand importance of fighting victimisation of union official. Question employers instead.”
Teachers were set to to lobby Mahmood’s surgery this Friday in protest at her comments.
Workers are also clear that this dispute is not just about one person. Bosses are trying to break union organisation to ram through attacks.
They had planned on pushing through academisation and 71 job cuts before strikes forced them to retreat on both issues.
As one teacher put it, “If we lose this, all those jobs are gone. And if they get away with victimising one union rep, no one else will want to be a rep or fight back. The national union cannot afford to lose this.”
There is overwhelming support for Simon. Workers can win—but the national union needs to ramp up the pressure on school bosses.