The self-styled 'revolutionary party' the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) are much diminished from their 80s and 90s peak. They have been, rightly, shattered by their decision to put protecting their organisation and leading members of it ahead of ensuring a fair hearing for young women in their group making allegations of rape. Yet despite this they held a residual weight in the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and now in the National Education Union (NEU). This relative strength is even more surprising when you consider their modus operandi in the union, essentially providing left cover for an ineffective pseudo left leadership. Time and again at national conference SWP comrades make radical sounding speeches and then vote against effective action on workload, testing and pay.
In particular, the SWP have played a terrible role on the fight to stop high stakes testing for primary school children. For years Workers' Liberty comrades have written motions that have gone to conference calling for the union to ballot for a boycott of SATs and other high-stakes tests in primary schools. We are very proud of our role in this fight. Every year, the union's leadership supported by the SWP weasel around to find reasons to not call a ballot: they call for consultation; they suggest that boycotting summative testing would mean boycotting spelling tests; they pretend that their ineffective strategy for stopping Baseline testing will not only stop Baseline but bring down SATs; they hold conferences to discuss how terrible it all is and they print t-shirts and then they vote down balloting to boycott!
Despite this shabby tradition they may even have surpassed themselves in their reaction to the latest pay deal (see separate post). The union had put in for 5% full-funded, the government gave 3.5% to main scale teachers, 2% to upper pay spine and 1% to leadership. Not only that but it was not fully-funded so that schools would have to pay a substantial part of it out of their meagre and shrinking budgets. So how did these leaders of the class react. Well, their members on the union's National Executive split on the vote, the two closest to the SWP leadership (Jess Edwards and Stefan Simms) voted to support the union leaderships line of demanding 3.5% fully funded across the board, whereas two others (Anne Lemon and Simon Murch) voted with the left to build for action for 5% fully funded for all teachers (errr... you know the claim the union had put in!) Edward's and Simm's votes ensured the union's leadership got their way. Leaving the union building for action for demands which do nothing to motivate teachers on main scale (because they are only demanding that the government funds the 3.5%, they have agreed to pay them!) to take industrial action. The majority of the union's membership are on main scale.
How to explain the SWP exec members split? Perhaps it was a choreographed manoeuvre to get the leadership line through but allow some of them to appear radical. More likely is that Lemon and Murch were off message and just hadn't lost their class struggle bearings altogether. Whatever, it is another sorry chapter in the tragedy of their group's intervention into our union.
However, that isn't the end of it! Some SWP dominated school groups circulated on social media pictures of them holding up banners with the slogan: 'Will accept 3.5% but worth 5%. Ballot for national strike action now.' Beyond parody!
The SWP as an organisation are not only, not going to lead a revolution, they are not even vaguely competent trade unionists.
By David Pendleton