Defend Adrian Swain!

Submitted by martin on 4 November, 2008 - 4:15

Adrian Swain, National Union of Teachers representative at St Paul's Way school in East London, faces a decision by the headteacher to start disciplinary proceedings against him for non-compliance with a recently-imposed dress code.

See comments, below, for updates. Please sign the petition (attached) and return it to NUT representative, St Paul's Way Community School, Shelmerdine Close, London E3 4AN.

Below is the motion adopted by the school NUT group.

The union group notes

• the Headteacher has decided to impose a staff dress code without any form of consultation taking place

• the Headteacher has still not made clear to all staff what she actually means by ‘appropriate’ dress

• this dress-code has been enforced in an arbitrary fashion (some members have been issued with warnings while others have not).

• given the many challenging and important issues that school has to face today, the implementation and enforcement of a dress-code is an unnecessary distraction and creates an unsettling and divisive atmosphere

• the Headteacher has decided to begin disciplinary proceedings against the NUT rep, Adrian Swain.

We call upon the Headteacher to drop the disciplinary proceedings.

We call upon the ELTA Secretary to write to the Headteacher and the Chair of the IEB condemning the decision to begin disciplinary proceedings against Adrian Swain and to send a mailing to all NUT groups in Tower Hamlets informing them of the campaign and encouraging them to support it.

We call upon the ELTA officers/committee to include this (the decision to begin disciplinary proceedings against our NUT Rep and our resulting campaign in his support) as an item on the agenda of the next ELTA General Members’ meeting.

We call upon the ELTA Secretary to investigate this and other practices (e.g. alleged bullying, capability proceedings) currently going on at St Paul’s Way Community School and to meet with members to discuss these issues.

We resolve to set up a campaign to defend Adrian Swain and bring about an end to the disciplinary proceedings. This will involve circulating a petition and informing other union groups/branches across London about the campaign, inviting them to send letters of protest to the Headteacher and the Chair of the IEB and messages of support to St Paul’s Way Union Group.

We resolve to meet and discuss other forms of action should our requests not be met.

Attachment Size
adrian.pdf(35 KB) 35 KB

Comments

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 05/11/2008 - 18:47

I f readers of this site could send letters both in a personal capacity and when possible from school/workplace union groups and union associations this would be good and may even bounce the swp into supporting- disgracefully so far they have actually argued against support! More details here

As I write apparently despite a clear majority ballot in favour of strike action the NUT's executive have voted not to strike. It is all the more important to take up cases like this and rebuild the union from the bottom up against an executive dominated by a small clique ignoring the wishes of the majority of teachers.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 10/11/2008 - 09:45

though still too slowly. Thans for putting this up prominently on your site. Merseyside TUC (Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley and St Helens) are supporting and Alex Kenny of ELTA is syaing he do his utmost to support hopugh unofrtunately a motion demanding support fell as it would- some argued- dsitract from the pay campaign. As the pay campaign is stalled perhaps now this is a good opportunity to rally round this and make sure that an especially vibrant NUT group- which for example voted for and carired out a strike against the Iraq war and had a picket of over 60 during the last pay strike- is not targetted.

AWL members in the NUT, Unison and other unions as well as other reader sof this site can you try to make sure you get messages of support from your union groups and straignth away send them in a personal capacity. The following appeared in Socialist Resistance

"Adrian Swain is a long-standing teacher at St Paul’s Way Community School in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where the majority of pupils are of Bangladeshi origin and senior managers are determined to break a strong National Union of Teachers’ (NUT) school group. Rumours have abounded that the school had become a prime target for an Academy with the appointment of an Interim Executive Board replacing the previous governing body.
After more than three decades of teaching in what most of us would regard as tough inner city schools in Newham and Tower Hamlets, Adrian is at risk of the sack before the Christmas break. Despite being an exceptionally effective maths teacher at GCSE level, management have targeted Adrian, a NUT rep at the school, for the ‘crime’ of wearing trainers in defiance of a new, recently imposed dress code that the headteacher (herself a Goth outside the classroom, who will be departing after the autumn term) has implemented without consultation with the union.
St Paul’s Way is an unusual school in many ways – its frequent NUT group meetings regularly attract more than 30 teachers. Adrian was instrumental in building both a mass walkout of pupils and teachers in opposition to the Iraq War in March 2003 and solidarity action by teachers in support of this July’s strike by UNISON members. During the strike the school witnessed one of the most vibrant picket lines anywhere in London as some 60 teachers and UNISON members joined the picket line in the face of management threats.
From day one of the current school year Adrian had decided to take a principled against the imposed dress code and continued to wear his usual footwear. Others have been dragged in for alleged violations of a dress code that has been enforced with arbitrary inconsistency, but to date only Adrian has faced formal disciplinary action, which could culminate in his dismissal.
The vast majority of teachers and non-academic staff support Adrian, with nearly 100 signing a petition to demand that St Paul’s Way management drops the disciplinary proceedings and a strongly worded motion from the school group going forward to the borough’s NUT branch. At first glance this dispute may seem a ridiculous waste of time and energy, but fellow teachers recognise that this is not an argument about Adrian’s sartorial sense. The proceedings against Adrian are at the heart of a more general offensive on the union group with management trying to blame the NUT and individual teachers for the school’s shortcomings.
Most teachers in Tower Hamlets belong to the NUT, where the local branch (the East London Teachers’ Association - ELTA) is widely regarded as among the most left-wing in the country. Its secretary, Alex Kenny, is among the key activists in the dominant left grouping in the union, the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance. So you might have expected a substantial campaign in support of a leading representative at a well-organised school now in the firing line. Unfortunately, however, ELTA has so far failed to rally to Adrian’s defence.
At the association’s October meeting a resolution from Adrian’s school group fell on a tie vote after Alex Kenny and members of the Socialist Workers Party opposed the motion. Some opponents argued that there was a contradiction between waging a fight over national pay – since effectively abandoned for this year – and backing Adrian in the dress code dispute. A sad irony of the meeting was that if members from St Paul’s Way had not turned up in force it would have been inquorate, which would have rendered it powerless to adopt resolutions to submit to the union’s annual conference.
Since the ELTA meeting Alex Kenny has stated that he would do his “utmost to defend Adrian” . While these words are welcome, the perceived lack of support from the association’s leadership can only bolster management’s confidence in pursuing Adrian while weakening the determination of St Paul’s Way teachers to defend their representative.
The good news, however, is that Adrian’s dismissal is by no means a foregone conclusion. He retains considerable support within the school group, while management has also breached procedures along the way.
• Please send letters of protest as a matter of urgency to: Ms Lorraine Page, Headteacher, St Paul’s Way Community School, Shelmerdine Close, London E3 4AN.
Please send a copy of any letter to ELTA branch secretary, Alex Kenny – email alex@elta.demon.co.uk or write to ELTA, Shadwell Centre, 455 The Highway, London E1W 3HP."

Submitted by martin on Wed, 10/12/2008 - 12:28

Adrian Swain is the NUT rep at St Paul's Way School in Tower Hamlets. He is currently being disciplined by management for failing to comply with the school's dress code. The code was imposed on staff in the autumn term with no consultation whatsoever. Adrian has been given a final written warning for misconduct (for failing to obey a "reasonable instruction" of the headteacher) and he faces a hearing in December which could result in his dismissal.

Adrian's "offence" is that he wears trainers and tracksuit bottoms, as he has done for the last 35 years. These items of clothing are now proscribed under the code, which is operated under the catch all command to "dress professionally", a fashion sense entirely at the discretion of the head.

Management's treatment of Adrian is, of course, a particularly squalid and transparent form of victimisation. Adrian, a supporter of this journal, is a communist militant with decades of experience in the labour movement. The St Paul's Way NUT group has a reputation as one of the best organised union groups in London. It has defended working conditions over a long period, thwarted various management attacks and has a proud history of honouring picket lines. It has also been ready to embrace political trade unionism - most inspiringly when its members took strike action on the day the war against Iraq began in March 2003.

Adrian has been a key figure in all of these struggles. Management clearly hope to weaken the union group by attacking its rep and it is important to see this attack in the context of the general situation facing NUT members at the school.

St Paul's Way School was given a "notice to improve" and in September its governing body was replaced by an Interim Executive Board (IEB), some of whom are notorious union busters. Teachers at the school face huge increases both in workload and monitoring by management. The school has a budget deficit and the headteacher has indicated that redundancies will be used to balance the books. She has also indicated that there will be a more extensive use of "capability" procedures, a method of sacking staff. Already one NUT member has been pressured into resigning.

As Adrian has pointed out tirelessly, the imposition of a dress code is directly linked to these attacks. It is one more mechanism by which management intends to exert its control over the staff, perhaps with the aim of facilitating the school's privatisation through the creation of an Academy.

One would think it would be an automatic reflex for any decent trade unionist to jump to Adrian's defence; and indeed he has received considerable support from activists in his own union group and beyond. What is deeply disturbing, though, is that sections of the NUT left in Tower Hamlets have not only refused to support him but have actively obstructed the development of a campaign in his defence.

The NUT branch in Tower Hamlets, East London Teachers Association (ELTA) is supposed to be a stronghold of the left. It is led by members of the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA), some of whom are also members of the Socialist Workers Party. However, when members of the St Paul's Way NUT group brought an emergency resolution to a branch meeting in October seeking ELTA's backing for a campaign to defend Adrian, the ELTA leadership and members of the SWP argued vehemently against the resolution. Adrian was told that he must back down, that the campaign was unwinnable and that it would be impossible to persuade NUT members to support him.

The resolution contained some very basic solidarity points. It called upon the "ELTA Secretary to write to the Headteacher and the Chair of the IEB condemning the decision to begin disciplinary proceedings against Adrian Swain and to send a mailing to all NUT groups in Tower Hamlets informing them of the campaign and encouraging them to support it." What sort of trade unionist could be opposed to this resolution? What kind of socialist would object to a letter being written to condemn a disciplinary attack on an NUT rep, or to a mailing to NUT members encouraging them to support a campaign in defence of this rep?

The ELTA leadership was, however, united in its hostility to the resolution. In fact, Adrian - it was implied - was just being silly in refusing to accept management's instruction. In the end the motion fell 11-11. The ELTA leadership had, scandalously, denied Adrian the support of his local association. Since the October meeting the ELTA Secretary and NUT Executive member Alex Kenny has continued to argue (in various meetings and in many emails) that Adrian must back down. Adrian is making, according to Kenny, "a gross error of judgment". Any idea that the membership might be mobilised to defeat management is rejected out of hand.

The ELTA secretary's ongoing attempts to undermine the campaign in defence of Adrian have been vigorously backed up by, Paul McGarr, an SWP member at St Paul's Way, who has argued in meeting after meeting that Adrian must inevitably lose. Of course, the lack of support from ELTA has had its impact on the school group, increasing its sense of isolation and weariness.

After being told by Kenny and McGarr that Adrian would be suspended the next day and the group would lose their rep, they voted to "urge" Adrian to conform with the dress code. It is not surprising that members of a school group, threatened with losing their valued rep and denied any support from their local association, felt they had no other option.

The explanation for the attitudes and actions of the ELTA leadership lies in their politics - in the terrible weaknesses of the "broad leftism" that is at the heart of the STA project and in the SWP's continued rightward evolution. Whilst the STA sometimes campaigns for national action, it is wary of action from below, of "messy" local disputes. Increasingly, these must be prevented.

The SWP, since it re-entered the STA, believes that it is the left leaders, like Alex Kenny, who will deliver action. Alliances must be sought with them and defended at all costs. The irony is, of course, that the left leaders on whom the SWP depend have just voted (on the NUT Executive) to call off strike action on pay!

This sign of weakness has led various school managements to go onto the offensive. In the last month alone not only has Adrian been victimised but the rep at Raines School has been sacked after nearly a year's suspension. In Hackney a teacher has been given a written warning for wearing a tiny eyebrow piercing and union activists within the school are being threatened with capability procedures.

Evidence that this use of dress codes to victimise members was becoming increasingly generalised (there are other cases in Westminster) led Hackney Teachers Association to pass a resolution in November calling for a joint campaign against these attacks, and asking for the support of other associations throughout the area. Scandalously SWP members in Hackney put an amendment deleting support for Adrian. This was soundly defeated with only three SWP members voting for the amendment. The original motion went on to be carried unanimously. Hopefully this kind of clear solidarity and the support pledged by Hackney NUT will inspire the St Paul's Way group and reinvigorate the campaign to support Adrian.

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