Socialist Worker

More strikes needed in bitter campaign to defend NUT union rep Simon O'Hara

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2494

Teachers picket at Small Heath school in Birmingham

Teachers picket at Small Heath school in Birmingham (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The NUT leadership called off a strike at Small Heath School to defend victimised rep Simon O’Hara this week—while Simon remained suspended.

Bosses lifted Simon's suspension a few hours later - then promptly suspended him again.

The news came on Tuesday of this week, the day that NUT union members at the school began their fourth three-day strike to demand Simon’s reinstatement.

The NUT should have done the opposite—and escalated the action.

Bosses suspended Simon in January after he helped lead a series of walkouts against academisation.

Furious workers voted overwhelmingly to strike to defend their rep.

Strikers and the national union have always argued that Simon’s suspension was simply an attempt to target an effective union rep.

Teachers have repeatedly showed their willingness to fight.

They overwhelmingly voted to escalate the strikes last week—but the NUT’s national action committee would not agree to the plan.

But the strikers were right to back escalation to pile pressure on bosses.

There is huge support for Simon and real potential to build more. The mood on the picket line was upbeat on Tuesday of this week.

One striker told Socialist Worker, “Everybody’s pretty chipper. More teachers are on the picket line from different schools. And we’ve had more parental support.”

One supporter brought a camping stove to make strikers breakfast.

But strikers wanted their union leaders to make the dispute more high-profile.

Pressure 

One striker told Socialist Worker, “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.”

Raising the issue in other schools rattled bosses and the local authority. Strikers were buoyed by a Birmingham NUT reps’ meeting on Wednesday of last week.

One said, “I found the 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.”

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 there were appalled at Labour MP Shabana Mahmood and Labour councillor Brigid Jones, who said workers are wrong to strike.

Birmingham NUT had called a national “Do Something For Simon” day on Wednesday 16 March.

All of this shows the scale of the support for Simon.

Simon’s victimisation is not just about one rep (see below). It’s about defending union rights.

The national union should make the fight at Small Heath a national fight. As one teacher put it, “This dispute can be won.”


Bosses try to weaken unions

Simon O’Hara is an effective union rep. He won an NUT award last year for organising the Small Heath anti-academy campaign.

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 for action against a proposed academy conversion.

Now bosses are threatening job losses—including the NUT rep.


Morgan’s attack on school funding will ‘hit cities hard’

Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan has unveiled a new attack on school funding. She claimed a new “Funding Formula” will mean schools get funding that “genuinely matches their need”.

But the NUT union said the proposals “will impose huge funding cuts on many schools unless additional funding is made available”.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower cited figures showing that “schools in many cities would be hit particularly hard”.

She accused the government of “trying to avoid disclosing the cuts facing London schools in advance of the Mayoral election. None of our schools is over-funded, so reallocating inadequate resources will simply shunt funding problems around the school system.”

The Tory plan also means local authorities would no longer be involved in the process of school funding.


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