A Union for All School Workers

Posted in Class Struggle's blog on Wed, 10/04/2019 - 08:41,

Support motion 14 and amendment 14.1.

Support motion 38 and reject amendments 38.1 and 38.2.

Teachers are not the only workers in schools, and the National Education Union is not just a union for teachers. The merger of the NUT and ATL that resulted in the NEU represents an unprecedented opportunity to build a union that can represent all workers who work in schools – cleaners, catering workers, administrators, caretakers/site managers, mealtime supervisors, learning mentors, technicians, welfare officers, teaching assistants and many more as well as teachers. All school workers have a common interest in organising together; our salaries are paid from the same budget; we work under the direction of the same school management. In each school, our terms and conditions of work are ultimately defined by, and negotiated with, the same employer.

The NEU now claims over 450,000 members, including a significant and growing number of support staff. The task now is to build an integrated, united and militant union that works for all its members. Unfortunately, led by the dominant and misnamed Socialist Teachers Alliance, the NEU watered down its pay claim and has not balloted non-teaching staff on either pay or school funding. The union has also voluntarily ceded the right to negotiate non-teaching staff’s pay and conditions at local-authority and Academy-Trust levels to Unison, GMB and Unite.

By doing so the new union is beginning to create two tiers of membership, with the poorer-paid, non-teachers as second-class citizens. The NEU’s leadership is in danger of messing up the merger and squandering the potential of a new, industrial union in education.
Conference has the opportunity to put this right. Passing motion 14 with amendment 14.1 is an important first step in setting out clearly the objective of a union that can collectively represent and bargain for all school workers.

Later on, in the Strategy Section, this means supporting motion 38 and rejecting the Executive’s amendment 38.1 (which replaces the substance and cutting edge of the motion with plausible-sounding but empty platitudes) and the more straightforwardly spoiling amendment 38.2. This is vital in order to make real progress towards the objective set out in amendment 14.1, most importantly through rank-and-file, workplace organising.
The NEU must rescind at the earliest opportunity the self-limiting agreements it has struck with the GMB, Unison etc. not to seek to negotiate terms and conditions of support staff, ending their second-class status. It is now vital that the NEU actively welcomes support staff, championing their causes and creating support-staff NEU leaders at every level of the union.
Most Headteachers, faced with teachers’ strike action, now habitually attempt to keep the schools open, staffed by Senior Leadership, agency staff and scabs. If key groups of support staff are part of an NEU organisation, and strike alongside the teachers, schools will not be able to remain open for legal reasons (the computer and registration systems will not work and the school will not be safe). The best way precarious, often outsourced, school support staff (cleaners, catering staff) and other school workers will be able to defend their interests is alongside teachers in a common trade union, by using the comparative strength of teachers to protect themselves and to organise.

Currently, if cuts to staffing are made, they most often are made to non-teaching staff or non-QTS teaching-support staff, who are either poorly unionised or served by unions who, in the main, do not deal with their concerns in a collective way, but through individual casework. A common trade union organisation in each school is also a way of breaking down barriers between different categories of workers – in particular, it will help to break down the snobbish way some teachers view support staff.

The NEU can now play a pivotal role, as the core of a future industrial trade union for school workers. We must aim for the maximum possible industrial unity, including with teachers in the NASUWT and with support staff currently in GMB, Unison and Unite, through merger and realignment on the basis of a united, democratic national union. Right now, this means the NEU actively recruiting support staff, most of whom are not currently unionised. If that also means some members of other unions deciding to join the NEU, then they are very welcome in our union!

We also, as motion 38 identifies, need to build the biggest and most united possible fight against the government in demanding substantially increased funding for all schools and increased pay for all school staff. Other unions in schools currently represent some hundreds of thousands of school support staff between them (Unison claims 250,000 members in schools across the UK) and we must seek to work with them in a common fightback.

The NEU needs to take the lead in restarting the pay and funding campaign across England and Wales. In doing so, we must urge Unison, GMB and Unite to take up the same campaign, energetically promoting it among their school-staff members, and balloting them on demands of increased pay and funding. And, while not delaying our own action through waiting for other unions, promoting solidarity and coordination of industrial action will strengthen our common campaign and ability to win.

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