Hundreds of thousands of teachers in the NEU union launched three days of regional strikes this week as the Tories refuse to offer a real pay increase. Teachers in the north of England walked out on Tuesday with those in the Midlands striking on Wednesday and members in Wales, the south of England and London on Thursday.
Chelsea, a newly qualified primary school teacher in north London told Socialist Worker, “There is a buzz in the staff room and our WhatsApp chat. For a lot of us this is our first industrial dispute and just our second day on strike.” She added that despite her short time working in education, she knows the Tories’ “failures are widespread”. “Every teacher is stressed with performance reviews, Ofsted and the amount of work—many leave because of it.”
According to a NEU survey last year, 44 percent of England’s state-school teachers plan to quit by 2027 with half of those intending to leave within two years. Chelsea explained that the challenge of the strike is huge. “We want a pay rise, but one that is funded by the government, not from school budgets.
Teachers already sometimes have to pay for their own classroom supplies because schools don’t deal with the cost. “Staff who leave are not always replaced, and class sizes are increasing everywhere.
“So the government can call us selfish, but that’s not the reality. We need a reasonable wage and the facilities to give pupils the best education possible.” The first national day of strikes on 1 February saw a enthusiastic response from teachers. Further national action is planned on 15 and 16 March, with the first day coordinating with at least 150,000 other workers.
But the NEU needs to set out a credible plan of action after 16 March to win the dispute, not just have a protest. And that must mean escalating the strike.
To beat the government in such a high-profile dispute will almost certainly require striking for more than one day every week and disrupting schools in the run-up to exams. And there must be no pausing of strikes for empty talks.
NEU leaders suspended regional strikes in Wales to allow for negotiations. These led nowhere. NEU Shropshire district secretary, John Boken told Socialist Worker, “I don’t agree with calling off strikes, it undermines the collective momentum, and we could lose members.
“The moment you start to open up to something far less than what you want, you lose people, some people might go back to work. It’s a dangerous game. He added that workers are “bewildered that the government is refusing to give us an offer”. But this is spurring a lot of members to up the fight.
“The last national strike we had in Shropshire, 18 schools closed, now we are closing over 30—that gives a sense of the will to strike in a politically Conservative area, a Tory heartland.”
Strikes forced education secretary, Gillian Keegan to tell NEU members that she does “understand teacher and leader workload is too high” and recognised retention issues. But, says John, “We do need to up the ante. We need to up our game. The Tories are ignoring public sector workers as much as possible. They couldn’t ignore us if we went all out.”
He added, “We can’t afford not to strike. Some support staff refuse to cross the picket lines, despite being on a low wage, it’s things like that which show our strength, and we need to build on that. “I think we have got to look at what other unions have done, bus drivers get paid less than most of us, but many have gone on all out action and won above inflation pay rises.”
The NEU has encouraged its members to set up strike committees. This needs to happen immediately to step up strike activity and picketing but also to push for the action needed to win.
Around 50,000 teachers across Scotland began a 48‑hour strike on Tuesday as they battle over pay. The main union—the EIS—and the Nasuwt union have both rejected the latest offer from the Scottish government and council employers.
It is a 6 percent pay uplift for the current year and then 5.5 percent for 2023-4. The unions rightly point out that this is a big pay cut once inflation is taken into account. Perth teacher Mary told Socialist Worker, “This has been a long battle, but everyone I work with is as determined as when we began a year ago, if not more so. “Why should we have yet another pay cut? The union began with a 10 percent pay claim, and we should stick to that. My only worry is that it’s too low.”
A 20-day period of rolling strikes is scheduled nationwide from 13 March until 21 April. It will hit each local authority area for three days. But the most effective action would be an all-out strike.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Scottish Labour conference in Edinburgh last weekend, EIS president Andrene Bamford said, “I’ve been all around the country, and I can tell you right now if there’s any doubt in the room, EIS members’ resolve has absolutely showed no signs of slowing down.”
She added, “We have to win this because although it’s about pay, it’s about more than pay. It is about education in its entirety.”
EIS ‘Pay Attention’ national march, Sat 11 March, Glasgow. Assemble Kelvingrove Park 10.30am, march at 11.30am and rally in Glasgow Green from 1pm. Transport www.eis.org.uk/pay-attention/marchrally
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