"Get out of jail free” for bullying bosses?

Submitted by AWL on 18 December, 2019 - 9:07 Author: Patrick Murphy

On 5 December, a slightly revised version of an agreement between the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) was put to the NEU National Executive for approval.

That agreement had been used in June, as I’ll describe, to sink an NEU dispute at Harbinger primary school in East London.

Kirstie Paton, one of the four Executive members representing Inner London, where the strike took place, moved an objection to reject the agreement and I seconded it. We reminded the Executive of the Harbinger story and emphasised the flat-out contradiction between the agreement and the principle of a lay-led union.

In an indication of the degraded state of our movement, all but four members of an Executive of over seventy members voted to approve the agreement.

The entire so-called NEU left voted for a “get out of jail free” card for bosses. Of the four speeches against, two were taken by members of the Socialist Workers Party [SWP]. Their argument, such as it was, relied entirely on referring to a section of the agreement which they claimed limits its use.

What’s wrong with the agreement?

The Harbinger struck against the unacceptable way in which they were being treated by their school’s head teacher.

The NAHT chose to invoke an obscure joint agreement saying: “NAHT and NEU paid officials will, by advising their officers and continuing informal dialogue between the two organisations, seek to agree status quo ante, a cooling off period and the establishment of negotiations”.

That process was used to suspend the strike action at Harbinger and impose this decision on the members.

The clause which the SWP used to justify endorsing the agreement states that “should either organisation conclude, having consulted their respective officers, that this form of conciliation will not assist, no further action will be taken under the protocol”.

That still leaves the decision to call action off with “either organisation”, not with the members in the workplace, who don’t even merit a mention. Even local elected officers are merely to be “consulted”.

• Patrick Murphy is a member of the NEU Executive, writing here in a personal capacity.

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