Walthamstow: School worker “warriors” winning even more support of parents

by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

“We’re warriors!” That’s how a union member at Walthamstow Primary Academy described their approach to the strike. What makes these women workers so formidable is their determination.

When the weather came in on the side of the employer, and so the picnic they’d planned as a chance to speak to parents was rained off, they didn’t accept defeat. They improvised and came up with a plan that striking teachers everywhere could use – a picket picnic at the end of the school day when parents have more time.

Picket Line outside Walthamstow Primary Academy, May 2022
Picket line outside Walthamstow Primary Academy, May 2022

Chatting over chocolate muffins allowed parents to get the strikers’ perspective. The solidarity built over buns has strengthened the strike and piled pressure on management.

The following Tuesday the atmosphere on the picket was even better, with parents and students greeting strikers with even more warmth and support.

The parents know the teachers have their kids’ interests at heart. They are looking at ways they can help the strike to win its demands to end unequal pay and bullying in the school. No one wants that environment for their children’s education.

Striking workers have reported that during the strike, classes are being asked to stay at home, or are covered by unqualified teachers, or even by parents or lunchtime supervisors! But parents have been told that education is continuing as normal. This is despite strikers offering to discuss compromises, and seeking conversations to end the strike.

Negotiations are ongoing. Victory to the WPA warriors!

Waltham Forest Socialist Party is hosting a meeting to discuss ‘Academies and the fight for education’ at 7pm on Thursday 19 May. The meeting will be in Bakers Arms. Call Sarah on 079 580 320 71 for details.

Victory to the Walthamstow Primary Academy strikers!

6TH MAY 2022

by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge

Teachers, teaching assistants and office staff in the National Education Union (NEU) are currently on their third week of strike action at Walthamstow Primary Academy. The reasons the strike was started back in March include bullying, unequal pay and treatment of staff, and lack of training and support for the education workers. The reasons the strike continues, with nine further days planned, is the intransigence of the head teacher and lack of serious engagement in negotiations.

The picket line is ‘manned’ by brilliant women workers, mostly striking for the first time. Students and parents greet them by name – showing the affection there is for them among the school families. But not so the academy’s senior management. Appeals for training and ideas for improvements get turned down. Feedback comes in the form of a telling-off. Think of the nurturing environment a primary school should be – this academy chain is creating the opposite.

Walthamstow Primary Academy strikers
Walthamstow Primary Academy strike, April 2022.
Photo: Glenn Kelly

The school is part of United Learning, an academy chain with a number of schools locally and hundreds across the country. The academy model, introduced by the Blair New Labour government and developed under subsequent Tory governments, outrageously allows the schools to bypass nationally negotiated pay deals with the school workers’ unions. But the determined collective action by the school workers points to the limits of such arrangements.

While parents, local trade unionists, and socialists have supported the strikers, when they have sought support from the local council they have not even received a reply. Under the Labour-run council in Waltham Forest, 33 of the borough’s 77 schools have been turned into academies. But in 2022 a whole number of them have faced strike action already on similar issues – an indictment of the academy model. Imagine if the council was fighting with the education workers to overturn the privatisation model. That’s one of the reasons TUSC candidates are standing in the local elections on 5 May – so workers like these have a voice on the council.

A mass campaign against all the bullying, low-paying academies is needed, with education workers driving it. It is teachers, school workers, parents, students and the local trade unions and council who should be running our schools, not brutal ‘business’ people who prioritise their interests over the students.