School workers in east London have the council on the run. NEU union members at three schools—Avenue, Cumberland and Keir Hardie—have held a series of strikes against plans to turn the schools into academies.
Their action, and a lively parents’ campaign, forced Labour-run Newham council to oppose academies. It called on schools to stop conversions until ballots of parents and workers had been held.
Now Labour mayor Robin Wales has been deselected and the Momentum-backed Rokhsana Fiaz will be Labour’s candidate (see below). The anti-academy fight is one factor behind the shift.
NEU members at Avenue began a three-day strike on Tuesday, following a three-day strike last week. Workers at Cumberland were set to strike on Wednesday, following a 24-hour walkout last week.
Keir Hardie workers struck for two days from last Wednesday. Parents joined pickets at Keir Hardie and GMB union members refused to cover strikers’ classes.
Picket lines at Avenue saw leaflets in eight languages demanding a parents’ ballot on the plans.
At Cumberland, the process of converting has already seen cuts to services for the most vulnerable children. This has sparked more opposition, with some pupils mounting their own protest.
Workers are confident. But there’s also a sense of urgency about stopping the academisation process.
Governors plan to academise at Keir Hardie on 19 April, while the process is already underway at Cumberland. Governors at Avenue will meet on 29 March to decide whether to convert the school into an academy.
Strikers, parents and supporters rallied in Newham last Thursday. Keir Hardie NEU rep Bethan said the walkouts meant workers had “grown stronger”. “We have gained about five members just this week,” she said.
Many strikers and parents don’t want schools to be run like businesses that only care about results—and they want schools to be accountable.
Cumberland NEU rep Carolyn was applauded when she said, “This is a fight about inclusion and defending a community school.”
Avenue striker Paula told Socialist Worker, “We should be keeping community schools. There should be no privatisation —they’re not doing it for the children.”
The meeting stressed the need to pile pressure on Wales and school governors in the coming days.
Miriam from Newham Against Academisation said, “There are reps being recruited at schools across the borough that are under threat.
“They’re having union meetings—they’ve never had them before. They’re learning you can say no collectively. This is galvanising people throughout the borough.”
Avenue striker Zillay told Socialist Worker, “The union used to be a bit dormant but now it’s much more active.
“Nothing in history comes easy, but we’ve created a movement.”
Wales beached by campaign
Sir Robin Wales has led Newham council for 23 years and is Britain’s longest serving mayor.
But last week Labour Party members deselected him and voted for Rokhsana Fiaz to be the party’s candidate in May’s local elections.
It was the first time that Labour members in Newham could vote for who they wanted as mayoral candidate.
All 20 ward parties and a majority of affiliate organisations voted that Wales should be challenged.
Some 861 members backed Fiaz to be Labour’s candidate, compared to 503 for Wales.
Fiaz said it was time to be “truly radical again and show what Labour can achieve for the many in Newham”.
She has promised to hold a referendum on whether the post of mayor should exist.
Many in the academies campaign have criticised the fact that the mayor can override council decisions.
Teachers stand up to bullies
Workers at St Helen’s Primary School in Barnsley were set to strike on Wednesday against AET, the academy chain that runs the school.
Teachers and support staff in the NEU union are fighting oppressive management practices.
They voted by 100 percent for strikes on a 90 percent turnout and plan further walkouts on 10 and 11 April.
Over 60 people, mainly parents, packed a meeting last week organised by the NEU to explain the reasons for the strike. They unanimously backed the strikes.
The NEU secretary said, “Our members have no confidence in the current management of the school and are concerned about the effect of constantly changing leadership.”
One parent was applauded when she declared, “Our teachers are 100 percent willing to strike, parents are 100 percent behind the teachers—what are AET prepared to do?”
Representatives of AET refused to answer.
A campaign launched by parents has circulated a petition declaring no confidence in the school’s executive head teacher and demanding the removal of AET. Many are arguing the school should return to local authority control.
Workers are demanding a full and independent review of their concerns which include the suspension of a union member.