GMB union members at The John Roan school in Greenwich, south east London, struck on Thursday against a plan to turn the school into an academy. And some NEU union members at the school refused to cross their picket lines and struck unofficially alongside them.
Workers are furious at a plan for the UST academy chain to take over the school. The chain has already threatened to make cuts before it is set to officially take over in January.
Striking cleaner Margaret told Socialist Worker, “I’m striking to keep my job and stop the company from taking over the school. Academies are businesses. All the money goes into the bosses’ pockets and away from the children. I’m on strike because they are rich and I am poor.”
Evelyn, another cleaner, agreed. “We don’t want an academy,” she told Socialist Worker. “They’ve said they want to reduce staff and make redundancies. It might also affect things like our pensions.”
There was a huge turnout on the picket line. Passing vehicles hooted their horns in support of the action. GMB rep Jonny told Socialist Worker, “I’m really heartened by the turnout. Even the workers who generally don’t like strikes are adamant that it’s right to strike.”
Strikers know that academisation will be bad for workers and children.
Mealtime supervisor and parent Jenny said an academy takeover could threaten vulnerable children. “My son has special needs and is in a wheelchair,” she told Socialist Worker. “He relies on a lot of support. I wanted him to come here because I wanted him to be in a community school.
“But when parents met Graeme Price from UST and asked about future provision, he said there will be cuts.”
But they also oppose it because they don’t want to work for a private firm—and don’t want public services to be in private hands.
As cleaning supervisor Tammy said, “I came to work here because it was working for a local authority, not a contractor where you can get moved around. We take pride in working here.
“UST has said it will make a 10 percent reduction in support staff. Our cleaning team is already short of staff.”
GMB branch president Steve Oakes said workers plan a three-day strike from 11 December. “UST has said it will charge ten times the amount for council services such as HR than the school pays now,” he told Socialist Worker.
“It’s a cash grab. And they haven’t given us guarantees on union recognition.”
NEU members had planned to strike today, but the union suspended the action following a threat of legal action from Labour-run Greenwich council.
Tammy said, “I would love to get my hands on Jeremy Corbyn. You expect this kind of thing from the Tories. But it’s a bit below the belt from Labour.”
But some NEU members respected the picket lines and struck anyway. John Roan NEU rep Kirstie Paton told strikers, “This is a very important precedent. An injury to one is an injury to all.”
NEU national executive committee (NEC) members Alex Kenny and Jess Edwards brought solidarity for the NEU members refusing to cross the picket line.
“We stand with you,” said Alex. “A union cannot tell its members not to cross a picket line. But what I’m saying to you is, NEU NEC members stand right behind you.”
He pledged that the union would try to make sure workers refusing to cross wouldn’t lose out financially. And he said the NEU hoped to be back out on strike in the future. “The NEU isn’t backing away from this fight,” he said.
“It’s a campaign we must win.”
Jess told the pickets that the fight at John Roan is “inspiring”. “This government would rather see fat cats get money than children,” she said. “Every fight against an academy is worth fighting.”
Academies are a scam to allow big businesses to get their hands on valuable land and assets. They are a way of entrenching private interests in key services. Workers are right to oppose them.