Hundreds of teachers joined the NEU union strike rally in Plymouth

School strikes hit London, Wales and the south of England on Thursday as teachers in the NEU union battle over pay.

Strong picket lines and enthusiastic rallies and marches showed the support for action—and in some places workers went beyond the official limits.

Fran is a support teacher in south London who, despite not officially being on strike, refused to cross the picket line and joined the strike rally in Lambeth. She told Socialist Worker, “Today is our first strike as we weren’t balloted last time.

“We had five people join our picket line and three people refused to cross it, other support teachers joined it for a while before going into work.”

Debbie, a teacher in Swindon, told Socialist Worker, “We are on strike for a fully funded pay rise, not one that comes from our school budgets—they are already stripped to the bone.

 “Schools have operated on unpaid hours for educators for too long, enough is enough. I work every weekend because my workload is just too high.

“In other professions people earn more than us and they work set hours, as soon as they leave their desk their job is done. Our job continues in the evenings, weekends, lunch breaks and school holidays.”

The pressure of falling real pay and high workload has caused a “teacher retention crisis”, Debbie explained.

“Teachers simply can’t afford the low pay and the personal toll the profession has. We often have people leave and we just can’t replace them. That hits teachers and support staff too.

“You see this in every school, not just the odd one or two. If someone resigns we all worry about the impact it has on students.

“If someone goes off work sick for an extended period, we can’t find a supply teacher to cover them. Children deserve so much better.”

Thousands of teachers joined strike rallies with hundreds on the streets in Islington, Croydon, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey, Ilford, Oval and Walthamstow among others in London. Elsewhere rallies attracted around 1,300 in Bristol and hundreds in Cardiff, Plymouth, Bexleyheath and Dorchester.

And at several rallies speakers called for escalation and also denounced the government’s scapegoating of refugees

Jon Reddiford, an NEU rep in Somerset told Socialist Worker, “We had a great, very solid picket from 6.30am. More people joined the picket line and there were more pickets than during the last strike. 

“In Devon there were twice as many picket lines as there were on 1 February. We discussed how the union leaders were right not to call off strikes just for a government offer of talks. But we also discussed how much more it will take to win—is two days in March enough?”

In Wales, Labour ministers tried to end the strikes by offering an extra 1.5 percent on pay and a 1.5 percent one-off payment. This saw scheduled strikes paused, but the NEU then rightly rejected the offer as “not good enough” and reinstated the action for this Thursday. There should be no more suspension of strikes for below-inflation deals,

The determination of workers to fight back has seen the NEU gain 50,000 members since announcing the strike ballot results. And 4,500 have become union reps.

Debbie says, “Members are more passionate especially after leaked WhatsApp messages between Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson were revealed.”

The former Tory health and education secretaries claimed teachers’ concerns about inadequate and limited personal protection equipment during the early part of the Covid pandemic were “an excuse not to teach”.

“If anyone was in doubt of striking this has made their mind up,” said Debbie. “The Tories were partying whilst we were busy risking our own lives to keep schools open.”

NEU members are set to strike again on 15 and 16 March.

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