As education activists gather in Bournemouth this week for the annual conference of the NEU, Socialist Appeal supporters in the union examine the crisis brewing in schools, and point the way forward – with militant, united action.
After 14 years of uninterrupted crisis, the capitalist system offers nothing to the working class but further attacks. War, chaos, and corruption are endemic. For ordinary workers, life is becoming harder by the day.
The cost-of-living crisis threatens to plunge millions into poverty. Meanwhile, oil and gas companies are celebrating record profits.
In response, workers are turning sharply to the industrial field. Trade union membership has been on the rise for the past five years in a row, as has the number of days lost to strike action.
And this is only a prelude. Combined with rampant inflation and ever-spiralling workloads, this dire situation is pushing teachers to the front lines of the struggle.
Read this article, and more, in the latest bulletin from NEU Marxists – supporters of Socialist Appeal inside the National Education Union.
NEU Marxists will be present at this week’s NEU annual conference, taking place in Bournemouth, arguing for socialist policies to tackle the crisis in the country’s schools.
Join us on Wednesday evening (7pm at the Brewhouse and Kitchen) for our NEU conference fringe meeting, where we’ll be joined by Marxist activists from teachers’ struggles across the world, looking at the lessons from these inspiring international events for the battles facing workers in Britain today.
If you’re at #NEUconference or in Bournemouth on Weds come along to our meeting to discuss with a speaker from the Minneapolis teachers’ strike, about the huge teachers’ strike in Iran as well as how to fight for better working conditions and pay in the UK! pic.twitter.com/ATUZVmMcQ9
— NEU Marxists (@NEUMarxists) April 9, 2022
Attacks in the media
Out of fear of the strength of our union, the government has responded with a media smear campaign against the profession.
New political impartiality guidance – which in reality is a crackdown on criticisms of the British Empire and discussion of movements such as Black Lives Matter – is clearly an attack on teachers’ professionalism.
This is propaganda from the government aimed to distract from the cost-of-living crisis. It is an effort to smear teachers, saying that we are ‘corrupting’ children by giving them access to information about the world they live in and the events they see all around them.
This was clearly seen in the backlash over the internationalist position taken by the union on the conflict in Ukraine. A flurry of attacks from the gutter press led to the NEU’s official statement being withdrawn – in effect allowing the establishment to dictate what our union’s position should be.
These attacks will only intensify as the crisis bites deeper. The government is determined to prevent explosions from below. But they are like King Canute trying to turn back the tide.
To harness the anger in the union, however, a proper perspective is needed. Sadly, this was lacking in the campaign around the pay survey.
Despite showing that 75% of respondents were in favour of strike action, the campaign has stalled due to low turnout. Clearly, this is a serious issue. But why was turnout so low?
There were several factors that led to this outcome. One was outreach. Where there was a rep to make the case to branches and members more directly, turnout was as high as 80-90%. However, where there was no rep, turnout was much lower.
Rather than focusing all forces to the point of attack, dozens of emails on different and unrelated struggles were sent out, clogging people’s inboxes and confusing them as to the union’s priorities.
The January issue of Educate was symptomatic of the campaign as a whole. It dedicated just two out of fifty pages to the pay survey, failing to even place it on the front cover.
Worsening pay marches hand in hand with increasing workload. Some in the union drag their feet on this question, citing academisation and the consequential disparity in workplace conditions as barriers that are too high to be overcome.
But the victorious teachers’ strike in Minneapolis, USA, shows the way forward. Their demands include smaller class sizes, more resources for students, and higher wages. These demands are connecting across disparate conditions and are rapidly spreading, with local districts in Chicago and California coming out on strike too.
A fighting leadership – one that reflects the demands of the workers – can overcome these difficulties by generalising the struggle. This is as true in the UK as it is anywhere else in the world.
Ultimately, it is capitalism that is at fault. This system is unable to provide decent working conditions for teachers, and therefore cannot provide decent learning conditions for young people. And we must be clear in saying so.
Our fightback starts by taking action over pay and conditions. In doing this, the potential exists to connect our struggle with the struggles of workers everywhere.
Action within the NEU must be used as a starting point towards united public sector action, including a one-day public sector strike, in order to demonstrate our strength and force this Tory government from power.
United and organised, the strength of the working class can completely transform society. But fulfilling this potential requires a fighting leadership – one that can mobilise our members around a bold socialist programme.
That is what we – Socialist Appeal supporters within the NEU – are fighting for. We urge you to join us in this task.