By Patrick Murphy (secretary, Leeds NUT)
Four school staff trade unions struck in Leeds on Tuesday 21 June against compulsory redundancies. There were large and noisy pickets on all three sites of the Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre, with passing motorists constantly honking horns to show their support. Parents turned up to the pickets, some with their children. The roads outside all three sites were festooned with home-made placards supporting our demands for proper funding and no job cuts.
In February the Leeds North West Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC) announced that they would cut 7.6 teachers and 9.5 nursery nurses due to a huge budget deficit.
The NW SILC is one of six new special schools set up within the last year in Leeds. They are part of a plan to give parents of children with complex special educational needs more choice, in particular the option of attending a mainstream school even when they are on the roll of a special school. Some staff employed by the SILC work on mainstream sites to include special needs pupils alongside their mainstream peers. It’s a strategy supported by the National Union of Teachers and other school unions, but we know that it costs a lot more money and requires higher staffing levels. The level of threatened job losses at the NW SILC undermines the whole idea.
Despite much lobbying, by the end of May Education Leeds had offered no reduction in the job cuts. Members of the NUT, NASUWT, ATL and GMB returned overwhelming yes votes in ballots for action.
Education Leeds immediately offered early retirement for staff over 55. A first day of strike action was planned for 9 June, but delayed to allow the employer more time to look at alternatives.
In the run-up to the rescheduled strike, on 21 June, Education Leeds said they were very confident there would be no compulsory redundancies — but they could not withdraw the notices. They implied that all staff had been offered and accepted alternatives, which was untrue. They also phoned regional or national officials of each union on the eve of the strike, claiming that the other unions had agreed to suspend action.
In the end workers at the school had a really successful day of action. The highlight of the morning was when Education Leeds Chief Executive, Chris Edwards, turned up and confronted some of the pickets with a demand to know why they were there! It is safe to say that a queue formed to help him understand the answer to that question.
At midday a strike rally was held at Pudsey Civic Hall with over 100 staff and parents.
It now looks as if none of the teachers nominated will be made redundant, though the position of the nursery nurses is not so clear. Until it is clear, we will keep up the unified campaign to save every job.
Redundancies are not some natural force that you have to accept, like flash floods. If they are fought in a determined and collective campaign of action, they can be avoided. We desperately need to see a national fight in that same spirit.