The fight to defend victimised NUT union rep Simon O’Hara is at a critical stage. NUT union members at Birmingham’s Small Heath School began a three-day strike to defend Simon today, Tuesday.
It follows a three-day strike last week demanding his reinstatement. Workers plan a further three-day walkout next week.
The NUT has offered concessions to try and resolve the dispute. But as one teacher told Socialist Worker, “It’s deadlock—management won’t budge.”
The strikers have shaken bosses and the local education authority, who fear strikers will encourage resistance elsewhere.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “It’s clear that the head’s under quite a bit of pressure. We were in a meeting with him yesterday and his voice was shaking.
“There’s a lot of support for Simon within the school, including from workers in unions that aren’t on strike.”
Another teacher said, “Their cages are rattled when we go to other schools and speak with other trade unionists.”
The union needs to fight for more of these school meetings to pile the pressure on bosses. A Birmingham NUT reps’ meeting was set to take place tomorrow, Wednesday. Reps should grab the opportunity to organise more meetings in schools across the city to build support for Simon.
Simon has won lots of support from trade unionists, parents and students. A group of parents joined the picket line, and passing vehicles hooted in support.
Retired teacher Bob Whitehead was one of Simon’s supporters who joined Tuesday’s picket line. He told Socialist Worker, “Trade unions must have the right to defend their members. This is a huge attack on union rights.”
He denounced the lack of support for the strikers among Labour MPs and councillors. “The Labour authority has the power to intervene,” he said. “They could resolve this tomorrow.”
NUT members remain determined to win Simon’s reinstatement.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “People are strong. Pickets have been consistent and I think that is cranking up the pressure on the bosses.
“Teachers from other Birmingham schools are here too. We’re pretty upbeat.”
The national union must organise now to escalate the dispute (see below) and make sure Simon wins. Small Heath teachers have already shown that strikes can get results—previous walkouts forced bosses to retreat on redundancies and turning the school into an academy.
Teachers have discussed whether to call for indefinite strikes to force bosses to back down.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “If it would force the head to negotiate and bring the strikes to an end quicker, I’d support an indefinite strike.”
Crucial time in Small Heath fight
The fight at Small Heath is not about one school or one city. Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan wants to ram through a privatised, corporate dominated vision of education.
The Tories want to smash teaching unions, the main obstacle to her plans. Defeat at Small Heath would encourage Morgan’s assault. Victory would send a signal that the NUT is ready and able to defend its reps and education.
The union needs to step up the fight to win a swift victory. Bosses and the education authority need to feel the full weight of the national union now.
That means stepping up the strikes to five days a week. It means offering catch up sessions to students facing crucial exams.
It means the NUT nationally going on the offensive in the media. It means fighting hard for solidarity for the strikers across schools in Birmingham.
Schools should send delegations to the Small Heath picket line. Strikers should speak at meetings in other schools.
Solidarity action may be unlawful but there are genuine grievances in every school. The national union should make clear that any Birmingham school where members want to ballot for action will get full and swift backing.
There should be a solidarity demonstration called in support of Small Heath. The national union should send in teams of organisers, if needed, to support all of this.
Strikers need to lobby and press Labour councillors and politicians across the city. The union nationally should press for a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn and shadow education secretary Lucy Powell.
It should call for their support to ensure Simon is reinstated and the Small Heath union busters are stopped.
Paul McGarr, NUT activist in east London