Teachers at Small Heath School in Birmingham have overwhelmingly voted to escalate strikes to defend their victimised NUT union rep Simon O’Hara.
NUT union members at the school met on Tuesday of this week as they began a three-day strike. They overwhelmingly backed a plan to hold longer strikes—from Monday afternoons to Friday mornings—to demand Simon’s reinstatement.
Bosses suspended Simon in January after he helped lead a series of successful walkouts against the school becoming an academy. NUT members have held three three-day strikes to demand bosses reinstate him.
Birmingham NUT general secretary David Room told Socialist Worker, “We’ve met the employer a number of times to explain how easy it would be to resolve this dispute. But they are not prepared to move.”
One striker told Socialist Worker, “It seems management are trying every trick in the book to turn people against us. But if they’ve got the best interests of the children at heart, why are they suspending teachers?”
Bosses have targeted Simon because they want to weaken the union so it is easier to push through attacks in the school.
One striker said changes are already damaging students’ education. “They are not appointing any new teachers,” she told Socialist Worker. “Instead they are using supply teachers. Sometimes they are not qualified. There can be a different supply teacher every week. It’s not a good education for the kids.”
Another added, “They want a new school day with a new timetable. There is no consultation.”
The union's national action committee has turned down strikers' request to escalate the strikes. But the fight needs to be urgently stepped up to force bosses to back down.
Teachers have shown they are willing to escalate to win. They deserve 100 percent support from their national union.
The struggle has implications beyond Small Heath. If bosses win it will send a message that union reps can be targeted. It will give them a green light for further attacks.
But there’s real potential to ramp up pressure on the bosses. One teacher told Socialist Worker, “We had a Birmingham NUT reps’ meeting on Wednesday. The strikers felt it was very positive. We’ve now got two more schools in Birmingham to go into and talk to teachers about the dispute.
“Now the union should send more information out to reps – and we should set up another reps’ meeting to get more people involved.”
The local authority and school bosses are rattled about Small Heath strikers going into other schools to talk about the dispute. That means strikers should do more of it.
The NUT held another parents’ meeting this week which one teacher said was “very positive”. Strikers have organised a timetable of off-site provision for students which they plan to begin next week.
The strikes over academisation showed that workers’ action can push bosses back. The stakes are high and workers have to win.
As one striker put it, “The bosses want to get the school they want and make redundancies.
“We’ve seen how things are in schools that have become academies. They are more regimented, there’s a high staff turnover and a high number of supply teachers. Parents feel they haven’t got a say.
“We need to continue the fight – there isn’t any other option.”