Striking teachers march in London earlier this year (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The NEU education union’s national executive has missed an opportunity to quickly restart the fight in response to the Tories’ “mistake” over schools funding.

The executive voted on Thursday to defer agreeing any timetable for an indicative ballot and strike ballot until its next meeting in December. This risks damaging the fight for education, and weakening the wider fight against the Tory government.

The same mistake must not be made at December’s meeting—or the damage could be catastrophic.

The Tory announcement that it had made an “error” over schools funding. It means English school budgets would rise from next April by 1.9 percent, and not the 2.7 percent promised.

This cut some £370 million from what schools expected to get then. It did not directly affect the 6.5 percent pay rise this school year that teachers are to receive. NEU members voted to accept that deal in a ballot before the summer break.

But the cut does threaten jobs and educational provision next year at a time when most schools are already struggling with years of underfunding. It also signals that the government is set on limiting increases in funding for the school year after this. The current funding crisis, which is wrecking education, would deepen.

And it means educators’ pay would continue to lag behind the cost of living—when it’s already fallen by over 20 percent over the last decade.

No wonder there was an explosion of anger among educators following the government’s announcement of its funding “mistake”. At a flurry of meetings last week, many schools met and passed motions demanding a quick return to strikes. In some areas, hundreds signed petitions demanding action.

The union leadership also signalled it was prepared to fight, and general secretary Daniel Kebede released a video to members which underlined that.

A move to call a strike under the existing ballot mandate looked impossible under draconian anti-union laws. So the focus then shifted to restarting the fight through a quick move to an indicative ballot—required under union rules before a legal action ballot. It could have started next week after a national Zoom meeting. 

That internal ballot on phones and emails could have been done quickly. And then the union could have given notice for a formal ballot to start after the government’s autumn budget statement on 22 November.

A 200-strong meeting on Wednesday backed this plan. It was organised by Educators Say No, the rank and file network launched before the summer in opposition to the 6.5 percent deal. It mobilised 15 percent of members to vote against the deal before the summer—a significant minority—independent of the union’s left leadership which pushed for acceptance.   

This week the majority of the left leadership in the union crumbled under pressure from the full time bureaucracy. At Thursday’s meeting, they backed a retreat, deferring any decision until December.

Socialist Worker supporters on the executive along with others argued strongly against such a retreat—but lost the vote by 32 to 16.

The decision risks sliding to a timetable which would see no strikes until after Easter next year. The leadership could push that back further, by repeating the false arguments from last year that no strikes can take place during exam periods.

So, in reality, it points to no strikes until June next year at the earliest, possibly September of next year—or not at all as we then move towards a general election. The task is to keep up grassroots organising and pressure on the union leadership to try to overcome this danger.

Many London districts have already called for a rally and protest over school funding on 22 November. This needs to be built as big and angry as possible. Similar initiatives need to be taken in other areas.

There will be real anger at the executive’s decision in schools and union districts where people had met over the last week and demanded quick action. That needs to be channeled into building the mood for a fight as quickly as possible and as widely as possible across the union.

The campaign should start now to demand the executive meeting on 2 December starts an immediate indicative ballot—on 3 December. This could allow an action ballot that would see us out on strike in the spring term before Easter.

This is too slow, but much better than what the executive decision this week points to.

That decision also underlines again why we need to continue to develop and grow rank and file networks such as Educators Say No in the unions. They came together to debate the way forward at the successful Workers’ Summit last month.

Follow Educators Say No at twitter.com/educatorssayno

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