NEU union teachers’ strike rally in Plymouth last week

Teachers across England plan to strike again on Wednesday and Thursday. Hundreds of thousands of NEU union members from across the country will join a national demonstration in London on the Wednesday.

Over half a million civil service and university workers, junior doctors, London Tube workers and more plan to strike on the same day—budget day. And many of them will join the march in London.

It comes at a crucial juncture in the wider pay revolt. The pressure of strikes has provoked some movement by employers and governments. But, in too many cases, union leaders have retreated. They have suspended or called off action even though the offers still leave workers facing pay cuts, instead of escalating to win a clear cut victory.

This was brought home when the NEU’s national executive voted on Friday to call off strikes in Wales following a new offer from the Welsh Labour government. That retreat was a mistake.

Wednesday’s budget day march will be followed by Thursday’s schools strike, which will see mass gatherings in many areas with strikers discussing the way forward. It is crucial that these gatherings create pressure to step up the strikes—and escalate to more hard hitting-action after the imminent Easter schools break.

There will be a battle inside the NEU over the direction of the pay fight. The Welsh offer showed significant movement. It was an extra 1.5 percent percent consolidated—integrated into basic pay for this school year- and then an extra 5 percent for the next school year from September. This is on top of the 5 percent already paid this school year.

And new money had been found to make these offers fully funded. In addition, a one off payment of an extra 1.5 percent this school year was thrown in. The overall impact is an 11.8 percent percent rise for most teachers across the two school years— this and next—with a one off payment on top.

That is a shift from where things were before the strikes. But with inflation across the two years around 17 percent—and that’s on a conservative estimate—it is still a near 5% pay cut in real terms.

The NEU is putting the offer to members in Wales, with no recommendation. Members should vote to reject and rejoin the strikes. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members on the NEU executive argued against calling off the strikes in Wales, and were among a minority who voted to keep the strikes on.

Teachers in Scotland in the EIS union last week voted in an online ballot overwhelmingly to accept a similar offer to that in Wales. It is worth around 14 percent over two years—and fully funded. Again, real movement, but still a pay cut when set against inflation over the same period.

The Westminster government could easily meet teachers’ claim for an above inflation pay rise for all which is fully funded. That would cost around £1 billion. 

The government has just announced it has £30 billion more than it forecast it would have this year. And that’s not to mention the billions more that could be raised by jacking up tax on the obscene profits of the energy companies.

The NEU executive will meet again on 25 March, and a week later delegates will gather in Harrogate for the union’s annual conference. There will be serious and sharp debates about how to carry the pay and funding fight forward.

It is crucial, both for teachers and for the wider pay revolt, that these lead not to retreats but to hard-hitting escalation of the strikes after Easter. That can break the Westminster government and win the victory that is possible.

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