by James Ivens, London Socialist Party
The sixth-form strike in Newham, east London, has won! After 12 strike days at Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc), management has withdrawn proposals to become a privately run ‘academy’.
In talks on 31 January, the day before action was due to continue, the boss conceded not to consider academisation before 2025. The agreement further states there will be no presumption of academisation after that date. Reps and management concluded the dispute with a joint statement.
The strike also won a “joint negotiating and consultative committee” between the union and college bosses. This will address the other burning issues in dispute – unbearable workload and bullying.
The secret to this victory was simple: the strike was solid. Senior leadership was unable to open classes on any strike day. There’s no substitute for industrial leverage.
The Newham district of the National Education Union (NEU) moved towards a strike ballot the instant the principal mentioned academisation. Now well used to running ballots, the branch won a 98% vote for action.
Bosses received notification of a quick escalation and long series of strike days. This showed management and members alike that the fight was serious.
The branch’s focus on picket lines and weekly rallies to discuss concerns and tactics kept the strike strong. As one striker told a January rally: “The picket line is everything, it gives us so much power… We are grinding them down.”
The college was consistently shut. The boss had no choice but to come to the table.
It’s just the latest proof that strikes get results from Newham NEU. School workers elected the Socialist Party’s Louise Cuffaro secretary in 2018. Since then, the branch has been on the front foot, always seeking to fight for members through collective action.
A strike at Louise’s own workplace, Avenue Primary School, pushed Newham’s Labour council to adopt an anti-academy policy around the last local elections. Despite this, it did nothing to stop NewVIc management.
The council issued no public statement, no letters to students and parents, no presence on the picket. This is despite Socialist Party members openly proposing this to two councillors at the one strike rally they attended. In fact, the council has even paid off the PFI debts of two community schools without strings – in the knowledge this will likely result in academisation.
The need for a new, mass party for the trade unions and working class is clear. Many Socialist Party and NEU members will be standing alongside others for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition this May as a step towards that.
On the day the boss caved in, Newham NEU had held a lunchtime meeting to organise NewVIc students. Several had visited picket lines, and brought more with them to hear the union’s case.
Students understood the threat that academisation poses to this working-class community college. They have their own issues with management. Socialist Students members attended in solidarity.
The official students’ union at NewVIc is controlled by that same management. Nonetheless, one member had challenged the principal in a meeting.
If, as he claimed, he had answered all the NEU’s concerns, why the strike? The boss’s response? “He didn’t have one!”
As well as the NEU group keeping the pressure on, sixth-formers can work towards an independent students’ union – to address their own needs, and to organise solidarity with the NEU.
Newham college strike solid against bully privatisers
19TH JANUARY 2022
by James Ivens, London Socialist Party
Strikers are ready to go the distance and beat ‘academisation’ at Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) in east London. Action restarted on 11 January after the Christmas break.
The strike is solid, with all but one department out. Its scale has forced management to close for all student functions except exams. The mood on the picket line is determination to see this through.
The National Education Union (NEU) won a stonking 98% vote for strikes against a bullying culture and privatisation before the first walkouts last term. As a result of leading a fight, the college’s NEU group has grown to over 100.
Principal and ‘chief executive’ Mandeep Gill is starting to show the strain. Pickets reported that on 10 January he forced staff to endure an unhinged, one-way rant against the strike at a compulsory after-hours meeting.
It only helped the union’s cause. But reps and strikers will nonetheless be holding an open meeting for all staff, to put the other side that Gill doesn’t want them to hear.
This is not likely to be a quick battle. Newham NEU has fought multiple struggles to stop privately run ‘academies’. The experience is that education bosses with pound signs in their eyes can take a while to defeat.
Certainly, the boss at NewVIc seems happy to waste staff and students’ time. January talks at conciliation service Acas resulted in his surprise claim that governors instructed him to withdraw an offered moratorium on privatisation… in mid-December.
Management has been in communication with the union repeatedly in that time. There was no mention of this rather important development. Some pickets speculated that the governors themselves may be unaware of their apparent instruction to the principal.
Newham NEU secretary and executive and Socialist Party member Louise Cuffaro has led earlier campaigns that won Newham’s right-wing Labour council to an official anti-academies position. Two Labour councillors came to the 11 January rally to offer the council’s support.
This is very welcome. But will the local authority offer more than fine words? Will Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz get on the phone to NewVIc management and tell them to stop? Will the council write to all staff, parents and students opposing the move?
Will the mayor and councillors stand with strikers on the picket lines? Will they demand space in the Newham Recorder? Socialist Party members made these proposals – we hope Newham Council takes its anti-academy policy seriously.