I’m writing this letter as a working class woman, a teaching assistant, a trade unionist and a revolutionary socialist. Oh, and did I mention that I am really angry too!
Last week I returned from the inaugural conference of the National Education Union (NEU) — a union that has joined teaching staff and support workers together for the first time — or should have!
There were many of the traits which I expected of you at this conference: refusal to debate, shouty slogans with no political depth to them, and your attempts to gain political glory. But what I didn’t expect was this…
On 15 April I proposed a motion entitled “Representation for Support Staff”. It argued that Support Staff should have recognition, collective bargaining rights and representation rights equal to teaching staff. Furthermore, that we should actively recruit these low-paid workers to our union.
The active left and a good portion of conference, who believe in equality and solidarity for all workers, voted for it. Your organisation did not.
Not only did you fail to support equal rights for all support workers on the lowest wages in our union — cleaners, caretakers, lunchtime assistants, teaching assistants and many more — your organisation took a speech on an amendment to this motion, effectively arguing against it.
When I as a working-class woman on a minimum wage was arguing for equal rights for all education workers, here’s what you said: you asked us to wait! Ah, that old chestnut.
Funnily enough, that was the argument used in the speech preceding yours by the Support Staff representative on the National Executive Committee. He too told us to wait, saying (on a previous motion on Support Staff moved by the NEC) “14,000 support workers have lost their jobs in the last year” but “we can’t do anything today. Not yet”. We must be patient!
Your organisation reiterated this message. You argued against workers’ rights and solidarity.
Would you tell that to the 14,000 workers who lost their jobs last year or are currently facing cuts but an increase in hours? Would you?
As a pawn of the right wing, you even argued that workers should abide by a bureaucratic decision made by the NEU leadership with other unions such as Unison and the GMB that we should not recruit support staff to our union. Yes, the lowest paid workers in our buildings!
You said that this would lead to a battle between the unions (leadership). But what about its rank and file membership? Are we not the union, do we not determine policy?
Even on very basic socialist principles, I would condemn your arguments. But for so-called revolutionary socialists to work against rank-and-file organisation and solidarity is nothing short of a disgrace.
The other argument you used in your speech against this motion was that the NEU needed to concentrate its efforts on organising the ballot for the boycott against all High Stakes Summative Testing in primary schools. You said it would deflect the union’s concentration if we voted for the support workers motion.
Why not involve the thousands of support workers up and down the country and recruit them to industrial action to support this boycott? But no. Even on the motion to ballot members to boycott all High Stakes Summative Testing in primary schools you failed, and voted against and with the leadership.
This doesn’t surprise me, it just angers me. It angers me that you call yourselves socialists but argue against the fundamental rights of workers and working-class action.
In the NEU you are led by your executive members, Jess Edwards, Stefan Simms, Simon Murch and Sally Kincaid, and their desire to ingratiate themselves with the leadership and the right-wing, not by rank-and-file workers on the ground, who would never put forward such spineless, anti-union, anti class and anti-solidarity arguments.You are what I expect but I’m still calling you out on this.
I look forward to your reply.