By Patrick Murphy, Secretary Leeds NUT
On 17 July up to 1,800 Leeds teachers will take part in a one-day strike in protest at the compulsory redundancy of 12 colleagues.
The strike comes after a ballot in which 81% of members who took part voted in favour of the action. There are also 29 support workers at risk of redundancy, but they have not been called out on strike.
The redundancies are due to take place on 31 August. Unless the local authority secures alternative employment for four NUT members by 15 July the strike will go ahead.
The number of redundancies has been reduced through voluntary early retirement and redeployment. Most of this reduction could have been achieved months ago if Education Leeds had not dragged their feet on this issue.
The main cause of these redundancies is the declining numbers of primary children in the city. Education Leeds Chief Executive, Chris Edwards, is arguing that this means that we need fewer teachers.
In fact, all the schools affected have said they would do much better if they were able to keep these staff. The staff left behind will be teaching larger classes and forced to do more cover. The children will be taught by even more stressed and overworked teachers. Declining pupil numbers ought to be an opportunity to address problems.
However, schools are funded mainly according to pupil numbers and even small changes in these numbers can have a huge impact on budgets. When the pupils on roll drop, the school finds that it cannot pay the bills. At the same time other schools sit on huge surpluses which cannot be used by the LEA to protect staff and children in less well-off schools.
In Leeds, for example, there is £11.6m in school reserves unspent while teachers and support staff are sacked!
This system is a scandal. That money should be passed back to local education authorities to be distributed to schools on the basis of need. A small fraction of it would save all the jobs at risk in the city.
The response of NUT members to the strike call has been really impressive. Thursday 17th is the second last day of the term. Many schools have organised trips and activities which teachers are very reluctant to cancel. Primaries have arranged leaving assemblies for Year 6.
This is a difficult time to call on people to support their colleagues. In fact, the evidence suggests that members want to do everything they can to ensure that the strike is a success.
Many schools will close, the vast majority will be seriously disrupted and all will be affected in some way.
In some cases crucial events are going ahead but members are writing to Education Leeds making clear their support for the strike. They don't want anything they do to be seen as undermining the action.
NUT members realise that if some of their colleagues lose their jobs this year without a fight then it could be any of them next year and the year after.
This is extremely important in Leeds because the risk of redundancies in the next few years is very high.
Not only have we got all the usual problems caused by government underfunding but we also have a major programme of primary and secondary reorganisation planned for 2005-6 which will threaten hundreds of jobs.
If Education Leeds can't manage to avoid the relatively small number of job losses threatened this year there will be appalling losses in years to come.
Education Leeds claims that they are working hard to find "creative solutions" to avoid redundancies but in fact all the practical strategies they have adopted have come from the unions.
They agreed to meet the unions weekly to work through the list of staff at risk and identify jobs for them only after this was proposed by the NUT.
This week they tried to get the strike called off on the grounds that a major job fair was being organised the day before the action. Once again, that was a union idea that they took up eventually when they began to appreciate the scale of the problem.
It may resolve things and it may not. The simple truth is, though, that NUT members cannot be asked to sit back and put their trust in Education Leeds. The efforts of the employer to seriously address this problem have only really started since the threat of a NUT strike.
The other school-based unions (NASUWT, ATL, Unison and GMB) have given us their full support and issued advice to their members not to do anything that would normally be done by NUT members.
This is crucial as Education Leeds have issued advice to schools urging them to avoid closure at all costs. They have denounced the strike as irresponsible and a bad example to our pupils.
In fact this strike shows young people the very best of trade unionism. NUT members will lose a day's pay and miss some of the most important end of term events for no personal gain whatever.
They will do it in the name of the most important principle in the trade union movement: the duty of the strong and secure to help their most vulnerable colleagues. In a society where greed and self-interest are so persistently encouraged young people will learn that solidarity is a better alternative.