The cost of living crisis and fighting over pay is at the top of the agenda in the months ahead. It is vital that reps and activists talk to members in schools, discuss and debate the strategy and tactics we need to successfully mobilise and win.

The NEU Left wants to play a part in facilitating that discussion. We begin with an opinion piece putting a case for a shift in the current approach. This is not an NEU Left “position” but a stimulus for discussion and debate. There are good arguments for other approaches too.

We would welcome contributions to this discussion and will share them on this blog. If you wish to add to the discussion please email your contribution to [email protected] (similar length to the piece below) and we will share them. But above all talk to activists in your area and members in schools- and let’s make sure their voices shape the union’s approach to this crucial question.

Time to press the accelerator in pay fight?

Has the mood seen around the RMT strikes changed how we should think about a pay ballot?

by Paul McGarr, Tower Hamlets

Every NEU activist knows it is right to prepare to fight on pay. The union nationally has done a good job, as have local officers, reps and activists since NEU conference at Easter voted to build towards a pay ballot.

Getting ballot ready has become a theme across the union- though there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

Under current plans we would start an indicative national ballot in October. 

If that was good enough in terms of turn out and backing for action, we would then move to a formal postal strike ballot. This would probably push any prospect of actually striking well into  the new year.

That was a good plan when we debated building a pay fight at conference- but is it still the best plan now?

The cost of living crisis has accelerated and is hurting now- as inflation rockets into double figures. It will be hurting even more in September and October.

It is in September that the government is set to impose a two year pay deal that will further cut real pay for almost all teachers.

The pace of the attack on living standards has accelerated and deepened – so do we need to up the pace and depth of our response?

The mood for a fight has also been transformed by the new spirit of struggle in the air.

The TUC demo in June lifted the mood. The RMT rail strikes and the support they got across the movement- and from the wider public- has had a significant impact too.

Now the CWU’s incredibly successful BT strike ballot votes, and more in the pipeline in Royal Mail have added to the mood of resistances.

Unite the union has been calling and winning ballots and strikes on pay in a range of industries and areas- many gaining significant pay rises too.

The PCS civil servants are now set to ballot on national strikes in September.

In education the NASUWT union has also indicated it is considering some form of action ballot in the autumn too.

In schools many members do not understand in this climate why we have to have two national ballots and wait until next year before we could strike back on pay. 

Certainly when I have tried to explain this to members in recent days it has simply led to bemused looks and questions about why can’t we just ballot in the autumn and strike when we need to- which is soon. I have not found a member at school in the last few weeks who understands why we instead have to have two national ballots and wait til next year before taking action.

There is now, surely, a strong case for making the indicative survey required under union rules a much quicker e-poll of some kind in September and, if we then judge the mood is right, making the October vote a full national action ballot so we can be ready to strike in the autumn term.

Of course there are risks- which is why we had the slower original plan. It is a big ask to deliver the 50% plus turn out needed to win  an action ballot- and our own internal recent ballots show there is a lot of work to do.

On the other hand a loud visible campaign in the autumn which gets lots of media coverage can be a crucial in driving up turn out and reaching parts of the membership we may not otherwise get to and so boost turn out.

If we did this it would mean the whole union from top to bottom going into a sharply focussed, single minded and energetic drive aimed at winning a ballot- half measures would be no good.

It would means throwing the entire resources of the national union at preparing to win a ballot: getting members postal addresses sorted, pushing for school, school gate or playground meetings, a full blooded social media and e-campaign, pumping out materials from flags to stickers, from leaflets to videos. But if the will is there we have the resources to do this.

Some times slow and patient organising is right, but there are times when it can miss the boat and there are also times where quick, loud and catching a mood is a better guarantee of getting the response we need.

It’s a judgment of course. But it is a discussion that we need to have seriously and urgently in the union. And it is a discussion that should be in the hands of reps and activists and not just left to those at the top of the union.

Reps and activists need to talk to members in schools, assess the mood and arguments and then let’s together debate and shape the right strategy now to take us forward and win on pay.

To add to the debate email contributions to: [email protected]

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