Rawmarsh: a guide to how strikes can win

Submitted by Matthew on 9 June, 2011 - 12:46

What do you do if your employers — citing dubious financial difficulties — proposes to sack 25 members of staff (out of 81)?

Simple: you do as National Union of Teachers (NUT) members at Rawmarsh Community School did: organise for discontinuous industrial action, recruiting teachers from other unions as you go.

After every period of strike action management retreated further and further, and members’ confidence grew. There are important lessons the labour movement should learn from Rawmarsh on how to fight the job cuts to come. So here is your four step plan to winning against job losses — Rawmarsh style!

Step one

Respond actively. Organise.

At Rawmarsh School the story was simple. The NUT immediately called a members’ meeting, gave the case for industrial action and balloted. Meanwhile another union, the NASUWT, blathered on about negotiations, and did not even ballot let alone take industrial action and crossed the picket lines.

Yet it had the cheek to claim recently that they had won jobs for all their members without industrial action. Well, when eight of their members leave to join the NUT that made the job a hell of a lot easier! Job losses cannot be negotiated away without the threat of strike action.

The NUT also put in place full strike pay for all members in the dispute. This was absolutely vital in enabling members to take the action they wanted to take, until the point of winning.

Step two

Don’t call off strike action for concessions. Escalate as necessary.

After the initial nine days of strike action, school management started to sound the retreat. First, they significantly scaled back the number of compulsory redundancies, then announced there would be no job cuts until the following September (initially they were proposed to happen in the middle of the school year!). However the NUT did not call off strike action at this point to negotiate the rest. In response to further days of strike action, the number of NUT members threatened with redundancy steadily dwindled.

Throughout this the union never once called off the action. At times strike dates were put on hold until after meetings with management, but the threat was ever present — management could feel the members breathing down their necks at every moment of negotiation!

Finally one NUT member was left, who “happened” to be the school rep. NUT members were in no mood for this kind of union bashing. They voted unanimously to continue action! At this point, a further two days of action before a negotiation meeting yielded no results. So the NUT group moved to three days a week until management relented, which they very quickly did.

Step three

Solidarity.

When only the NUT rep was left facing the sack another member was heard to say — “we are not about to abandon Ralph [the rep] to sink when he held the life boats for the rest of us to get in”. This sort of solidarity characterised the strike at Rawmarsh.

The fact the five members of the NASUWT joined the strike, the fact that all members of the NUT group stayed out until the end, and the overwhelming level of support from the local and national labour movement helped win this dispute. If members at the school had been told a year ago what lengths they would go to in order to protect their rep’s job, many would not have believed it. They learnt through struggle the power that the union has when it organises.

One very important thing contributed to this learning curve for the members — the fact that the union involved them in the dispute. All decisions on negotiation, strike dates, tactics for picket lines and communication with the wider labour movement were put to the NUT group at the school at regular meetings. This meant that when the rep and the division secretary took them the news of management not backing down on Ralph’s job, members were ready to take the decision to vote to continue action.

It is vital if we are to win against job cuts that we build union branches capable of this sort of organising. Capable of conducting disputes locally and accountably. Capable of forming strike committees at school and division level.

Step four

Insist all job losses are unacceptable.

The proposed job losses at Rawmarsh would have had a significant effect on education at the school, class sizes would have risen, less popular subjects lost, and a wealth of teaching experience not replaced.

Job losses aren’t inevitable, they are the product of a government determined to beat down union organisation, cut costs for the rich and create a two tier education system. At Rawmarsh, members did not stop when the majority of members had kept their jobs. They kept up the struggle, going on the offensive to say that no job cuts are acceptable.

Result

There are now no NUT members at Rawmarsh facing compulsory redundancy, and time was found to give the NUT rep his job.

Unfortunately there are still some job losses, non-union members, or members of unions that did not fight. NUT members have also taken some voluntary redundancies and voluntary reductions in hours. However the turn around from 25 teaching job losses six months ago to next to none now is a serious victory for workers.

This is not just a victory for those at Rawmarsh either, it is a piece of education for the labour movement as a whole; fight and you can win. Strike to win, involve the members and build solidarity.

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