New Generations learning working-class traditions in Newham

by Louise Cuffaro, NEU NEC member (personal capacity)

The mood after our resounding ballot result was determined and expectant. But after many years of no national strikes, we knew that many education staff had little or no experience of what was needed to turn the ballot into successful strike action, involving all members making a stand and winning over the public.

In Newham, we called all existing and would-be reps to a Zoom meeting to fully discuss, prepare and begin training. 70 reps attended.

We explained that no-one should tell their head who is striking. The national union gives the required information 14 days before any strike date. Each school cannot expect to know how many people will be on strike on the day. They have to make a decision in the light of health and safety and possible numbers of strikers whether they will be able to open. Our reps pointed out to heads that, besides existing NEU members, other teachers can and do join right up to the morning of a strike.

But most importantly, whether or not the school was closed, the union was set to reintroduce one of the most powerful strike tools at as many schools as possible — the picket line!

Newham NEU meeting
Newham NEU meeting
Photo: Ferdy

Having a picket line allows you to engage non-striking staff to explain one of the oldest acts of solidarity: why you should never cross a picket line, but join it! Our support staff needed there to be a picket line, for them not to cross.

The law is clear that once you don’t cross the picket line your employer has to treat you as a striker — you should not be victimised, but you will lose a day’s pay just like the strikers. Although many heads threatened, in the run up to the strike, that they would ‘discipline’, we acted collectively to say to staff that you can choose not to cross a picket line.

In the run up to 1 February we had over 70 members turn up for placard making. Newham officers and volunteers drove around to deliver picket supervisor jackets, and NEU hats, flags, and leaflets to hand out to parents.

As a result we had at least 50 schools with a picket line and other schools completely closed.

At 9:30am, around 500 strikers attended a Newham rally before the central London demo. First-time strikers and new reps were invited to speak. Young teachers told us it was their first strike action, and that they felt a growing confidence that the union has an historic task in fighting for state education. The local rally was a great bridge between the picket line and the London demo.

Newham NEU has held an important meeting for support staff to build on the 1 February action: to consolidate and extend the lessons of the picket lines and to increase the numbers of striking teachers, support staff, parents and carers that will be out on the regional action on 2 March.

More and more new trade unionists are learning the traditions of the past, and how we won state education, the NHS, public and social services, council housing, etc. Making our fight stronger to restore and improve the pay, conditions and services for all.