By a London Teacher
A potentially very positive consequence of the ATL/NUT merger to for the National Education Union (NEU) is that it removed the barrier that the National Union of Teachers imposed on itself not to recruit non-teaching staff in schools. By doing so the possibility has been created of much more effective workplace organisation in schools.
The NEU now claims over 450,000 members, including a significant and growing number of non-teaching staff.
The task now is to build an integrated, united and militant union that works for all its members. Unfortunately, led by the dominant and misnamed Socialist Teachers Alliance, the NEU watered down its pay claim and has not balloted non-teaching staff on our pay demand.
The union has also agreed not to pursue the right to negotiate non-teaching staff’s pay and conditions at national and Academy Trust levels, leaving bargaining to Unison and GMB. By doing so the new union is beginning to create two tiers of membership, with the poorer-paid, non-teachers as second-class citizens.
The NEU’s leadership is in danger of messing up the merger and squandering the potential of a new, industrial union in education.
Most Head Teachers, faced with teachers’ strike action, now habitually attempt to keep the schools open, staffed by Senior Leadership, agency staff and scabs. If key groups of non-teaching staff are part of an NEU organisation, and strike alongside the teachers, schools will not be able to remain open for legal reasons (the computer and registration systems will not work and the school will not be safe).
The best way precarious, often outsourced, school support staff (cleaners, catering staff) and other school workers will be able to defend themselves is alongside teachers in a common trade union. These workers can now use the comparative strength of teachers to protect themselves and to organise. Currently, if cuts to staffing are made, they most often are made to non-teaching staff, who are either poorly unionised or served by unions who do not deal with their concerns in a collective way, but through individual casework.
A common trade union organisation in each school is also a way of breaking down barriers between different categories of workers. In particular, common union organisation in schools will tend to break down the snobbish way some teachers view support staff.
AWL teachers are members of the NUT/NEU, rather than the other teachers’ union, NASUWT, because the NUT/NEU is larger (especially in urban centres like London), more democratic and less conservative than the NASUWT. We view the NEU as the core of a future industrial trade union for school workers.
We favour a merger between the NASUWT and NEU providing such a merger is likely to lead to increasing unity amongst school workers in a united, democratic national union. These splits in the trade unions, divisions and inter-union manoeuvring weaken the working-class movement.
We are for all school workers joining the NEU including those non-teaching staff currently in Unison, GMB etc. In the minority of areas where the GMB, Unison are well-organised in schools our members and other activists should dual-card. The intention, in the medium term, should be to bring whole groups of non-teaching workers over into the NEU and win recognition agreements for these workers.
We also oppose the current Unison drive among school staff generated by inter-bureaucratic competition between unions and the appeal the NEU has to support staff (who can see the logic of a single, strong union in schools).
We actively oppose the self-limiting agreements the NEU has struck with the GMB, Unison etc not to seek to negotiate terms and conditions of non-teaching staff. We oppose second-class status for non-teaching staff inside the NEU. In fact it is now very important the NEU actively welcomes support staff, championing their causes and creating NEU leaders at every level of the union who work as school librarians, in MIS, or premises, as TAs, or as cleaners.