Workers don’t have to accept bad deals and should strike to win (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The decision by school workers in the NEU to follow their leaders’ advice to stop strikes is a major blow against the pay revolt.

Teachers and others were the biggest group in the 2022-3 fightbacks. They were a central part of the days of unified strikes on 1 February and 15 March that gave a glimpse of the force that could win. It doesn’t mean it’s now all over.

Large groups of workers—including rail workers, junior doctors, university workers, hospital consultants and radiographers—are still fighting over pay and other issues. They should not reduce their claims to the NEU’s deal.

And other workers will join the struggle because the cost of living pressures that triggered the 2022 strike wave have not gone away. For all the noise this week that a few prices are falling, the general trend is still relentlessly upwards. The shop owners’ analysis widely quoted this week still shows food going up by 13.4 percent a year.

But, as in Royal Mail, the NEU outcome is far less than should have been won. When they were backing strikes, NEU leaders rightly stressed that the benchmark should be the RPI rate of inflation. Taking that as a guide, the latest deal will likely mean a pay cut of around 10 percent over two years. 

NEU leaders have sold their members short. Trade union leaders have held back the struggle, confined it to occasional action, refused indefinite strikes and generally failed to unify with other unions.

That means they haven’t won decisively. There is now a real danger that a small fall in inflation, new anti‑union laws, and the approach of a general election could see union leaders even keener to choke real resistance.

Confronting that means building grassroots networks among workers and between different groups of strikers. 

The demands for rank and file participation, strike committees and democratic control of disputes were one of the most precious gains from the strike wave. Every worker needs to develop these so that future campaigns aren’t held back. And the Workers’ Summit on 23 September (see page 16) is a chance to organise.

Another key task is to rally around the indefinite strikes at St Mungo’s, Brighton university and NSL in Camden that are breaking from what has become the norm of fragmented action.

We need a complete break from the dead traditions that have held back workers for so long. 

We haven’t done that yet, and we must step up the fight to have a far more militant, energised, combative movement that transforms the state of the class war.

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