The fight is on to get victimised NUT union rep Simon O’Hara reinstated as teachers begin their fourth three-day strike at his school today, Tuesday.
Bosses suspended Simon in January after he helped lead a series of strikes at Small Heath School in Birmingham.
That action forced bosses to retreat on plans to turn the school into an academy – and helped stave off planned redundancies. But they remain determined to target Simon.
NUT members at the school are striking to demand Simon’s reinstatement.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “Everybody’s pretty chipper. The word seems to be getting out about the strike—more teachers are on the picket line from different schools.
“And we’ve had more parental support since we had a meeting with parents last week.”
One supporter brought a camping stove and a frying pan to the picket line to make strikers eggy bread for breakfast. Vehicles were still tooting their horns to show support for strikers as they passed.
Strikers overwhelmingly voted to escalate the strikes last week—but the NUT’s national action committee would not agree to the plan. Now some strikers plan to teach some GCSE exam classes in an effort to protect children’s education.
But the strikers were right to back escalation. They understand that they need to find ways to pile pressure on bosses – and that escalating can bring a swifter victory.
One striker told Socialist Worker that trying to talk to management was like “hitting a brick wall”. The NUT has offered concessions but bosses won’t budge.
Now many strikers want the union to make Simon’s victimisation more high-profile to pile pressure on bosses.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “We’ve been on the BBC local news and ITV is here today. The more it’s in the media, the more pressure there is on the head teacher.
“It means we go into negotiations feeling that we’ve got a bit more respect. And we do feel there’s a different atmosphere among the senior leadership team at the moment. They seem less cocky.”
Raising the issue with teachers in other schools has got bosses and the local authority rattled. There needs to be much more of this.
Birmingham NUT has called a national “Do Something For Simon” day on Wednesday 16 March. Trade unionists should hold lunchtime meetings, solidarity events and take “Simon selfies” with posters reading, “Reinstate Simon”.
Doug Morgan is assistant secretary of Birmingham NUT. He told Socialist Worker, “We plan to push this out to Midlands TUC and the wider union movement. Everyone who stands with the strikers makes a massive impact on the confidence of those at the sharp end of this attack on trade unionists.”
Strikers were buoyed by a Birmingham NUT reps’ meeting held on Wednesday of last week.
One said, “I found the emergency NUT meeting very inspiring. The brilliant ideas other schools’ union members came up with always awe me, thinking, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’
“It strengthens us if others reassure us we are doing the right thing.”
Another said, “The strikers felt the meeting 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.”
Simon spoke to around 110 people at a Sandwell Unison union meeting on Thursday of last week. He was “cheered to the rafters”, one union member said.
And Simon spoke to a meeting of North Birmingham Momentum on Monday of this week. People were appalled at the lack of support for the strike from local Labour MP Shabana Mahmood and councillor Brigid Jones, who said that workers are wrong to strike.
One striker said, “They don’t appreciate the sheer amount of bullying we face in the school.”
But ordinary Labour Party members have joined picket lines to support the strike.
Bosses are due to confirm whether to retreat or sack Simon next week.
The national union has the resources to make Small Heath a national fight and build much wider solidarity with Simon. It should do so immediately.
As one teacher put it, “This dispute can be won.”
Bosses want to weaken unions
Simon O’Hara is an effective union rep. He won an NUT award last year for organising the anti-academy campaign at Small Heath.
Bosses have targeted him because they want to weaken the union and push through attacks.
A defeat at Small Heath would give bosses everywhere a green light to go on the offensive.
One sign of what’s at stake came from John Roan school in Greenwich, south east London. NUT members there are preparing to take action against a proposed academy conversion.
Now bosses have threatened to make workers redundant - including the NUT rep.