The National Education Union (NEU) began two days of strike action on Wednesday 15 March. The teachers’ strike saw countless staff walk out across England. So, what does the Tory government do? It puts out some shameless, baseless propaganda to try and turn parents against the NEU. Fortunately, it so far doesn’t appear to have worked – and the trade union has also hit back.
NEU teachers’ strike: everybody out
NEU members are striking over pay, working conditions, and students’ education. For example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says governments have cut the real-terms pay of experienced and senior teachers by around £6,600 – or 13% – since 2010. On top of this, the NEU also said that:
Nearly one third of the teachers who qualified in the last decade have quit.
13 per cent of teachers who qualified in 2019 have already gone.
All this is having a knock-on effect on kids’ education. The NEU says school budgets are already “overstretched”. The IFS thinks that even with additional government money, by 2024 education spending is only going to go back to where it was in real terms in 2010. So, NEU members have walked out:
I’m on a picket line in South East London with @NEUnion general secretary @MaryBoustedNEU and teachers on strike. The union has said it expects around 300,000 teachers to be striking across the country today #teacherstrikes pic.twitter.com/aexbrYMRNC
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— tilda martin (@matilda__martin) March 15, 2023
On 15 March, the NEU is also holding a rally in central London – with thousands of teachers expected to attend:
— NEU South West Region (@NEUSouthWest) March 15, 2023
However, the Tory government is also on the offensive – albeit not very successfully.
The Tories: rats in a sack
Desperate education secretary Gillian Keegan wrote an open letter to parents on Tuesday 14 March. She said that she was “extremely disappointed” that the NEU teachers’ strike was ‘disrupting’ kids and parents. Keegan noted that students were missing “invaluable” learning time. However, she crucially claimed that:
It is made worse by the fact that this strike action is completely unnecessary. As I said to the NEU three weeks ago, I want to get around the table and engage in serious talks on teachers’ pay and other issues to resolve disputes.
My only condition was that strike action is paused so those discussions can take place in good faith and without disruption.
Keegan slammed the NEU, saying it:
instead seems focused on strikes and all the needless disruption that brings.
Of course, this is typical Tory propaganda – because Keegan’s claims are completely one-sided.
NEU hits back – while parents still support it
NEU joint general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney wrote back to Keegan. They claimed that the strike was essentially down to her and her department. Bousted and Courtney said:
The NEU has said repeatedly that we will meet for talks any time, any place, anywhere. It is your precondition that we call off strike action in order to have talks, which lies in the way.
Last week, we, alongside the other education union leaders, asked for talks through ACAS in order to make progress. You refused to engage.
The letter also noted that the Scottish and Welsh governments had been negotiating more successfully with teachers. Plus, Bousted and Courtney went further, accusing Keegan – via her ‘pause the teachers’ strike’ demand – of setting:
a whole new precedent, which is nothing more than a stumbling block with which to play politics.
Unions caving-in to bosses hasn’t ended well recently. The University and College Union (UCU) even ended up having to add a strike date after no progress was made. The flip side of this is the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which stood its ground – and ended up winning its pay dispute, without any walkouts.
So, the teachers’ strike continues – and it seems parents are still supporting it. A poll by ParentKind showed 63% of parents supported the NEU. The Times Educational Supplement (TES), on the other hand, reported that 50% of people supported the NEU, according to the most recent YouGov polling.
So, government attempts to manipulate parents have so far failed. It seems that while the NEU holds the line over the dispute, the public are behind it – and not the Tories.
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