The latest ESN meeting took place on February 9th in Leeds. There were just over 20 people present from Leeds, Lewisham, Leicester, Hull, East Riding, Wakefield, Coventry, Bristol, Warwickshire, Nottingham and East London.
The Network met shortly after the results of an indicative ballot on the pay and funding campaign were announced and this was the background to all of the discussions. The national turnout of 31% was disappointing and well below the legal requirement for a legal ballot. There was general agreement that national action was almost certainly off the agenda though many delegates believed there was a strong case for ballots for action in specific sectors. In particular there is a case for a specific 6th form ballot on pay and funding. The turnout there was 46%, the yes vote was 84%, they have a well-established national reps network and their own distinctive pay and funding issues. The meeting drew at least three other lessons from the ballot:
• The national message in the ballot campaign was unclear and incoherent. It was a disaster to abandon the pay claim agreed at Conference and replace it with one which would not benefit the majority of teachers. We need a reset pay campaign based on Conference policy and we will fight for that in Liverpool in April.
• The decisive factor limiting our options as a union is the Tory anti-union laws. We have taken action on similar turnouts in the past but now face stricter legal requirements. The ESN agreed to co-sponsor a fringe meeting at Conference in Liverpool to oppose the anti-union laws.
• The NEU should call a national demonstration on school funding, pay, workload and academies to take place on a Saturday in the Summer term. This would give our campaigns national visibility and build confidence and engagement for a serious action campaign.
The meeting agreed to support Jane Crich (Nottingham) and Cleo Lewis (Lewisham) for Conference Business Committee. Districts can only nominate one candidate but you only need one nomination to stand. The deadline is March 18th (same as for amendments) This is the committee often used to stitch up debates at Conference and silence critical voices and alternative strategies so it is important to have independent people on there who can’t be controlled and told what to do.
ESN will relaunch at Conference and beyond and it was agreed that a revised and updated statement of aims be drafted. A key aspect of this in the new union will need to be a commitment to equal rights and representation for support staff. The NEU is currently unable and unwilling to seek representation for a growing section of our members for no better reason than preserving relations with the leadership and bureaucracies of sister unions. That needs to change. While we don’t want any unnecessary divisions between unions at a local and rank and file level, that is less likely to be problem and, in any case, this has to be secondary to establishing the most effective organisation in the workplace for all school staff.
The meeting discussed some of our plans for the first annual Conference of the NEU. There will be an organising meeting for delegates arriving in Liverpool on Sunday April 14th and a fringe meeting on Monday 15th. There will be another national meeting on May 18th in Birmingham and any NEU member who wants to see an independent fighting union that represents all school workers should try to get their district represented and/or come to the meeting themselves as a supporter.