If we are serious about winning a national contract for all education workers we need to have the correct strategy. Today’s meeting of the national executive had a concrete debate about two different strategies and overwhelmingly agreed the proposals I put forward to fight for and win a national contract.

A motion (copied below) was proposed to win a national contract. It argued that the key task is to prepare for a ballot of all members, then take national industrial action until we win our demands. If we cannot secure a majority for national action, the motion proposed using a disaggregated ballot and calling out members in areas where the ballot was well supported, to fight the government alone.

I put forward an alternative strategy (amendment copied below), arguing that winning a national contract will require a much broader struggle at all levels, including workplace and employer battles, which needs to be built from the base of the union, not just called from the centre. I argued that this work must begin now in our schools, colleges and other settings, taking on issues such as directed time, the gender pay gap and performance-related pay.

This difference is absolutely key to how we take forward our industrial strategy in the future. Do we pin all our hopes on a single national ballot, proposing disaggregated action where those districts that can secure a majority take on the government on their own if we can’t get a majority? Or do we build the struggle at all levels, from the workplace upwards, using each success to build the confidence of our members?

In order to build national action, we need to build the consciousness of reps and members, as one union arguing for a national contract – across workplaces and across employers. That is how we build national action and that is how we build a national contract.

The amendment I proposed was heavily supported and, at the end of the debate, the amended motion was overwhelmingly passed with three against and two abstentions.

As I said in proposing the amendment, it may not be as easy as just calling another national ballot but this is the concrete work needed to win collective bargaining rights and a national contract for all education workers.

Now it is time to get on with the hard work needed to win real change!

Sign up to join our campaign for a national contract for all education workers.

My proposing speech, putting forward an alternative strategy:

Colleagues, I want to start by explaining why this amendment is written as a ‘delete all’ amendment. In fact, it contains much of the original motion – points 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 – including the demand for a national contract. It deletes points 5, 6 and the instructions. However, it does introduce a significant amount of new material and reorder the retained points so, when I wrote it out as an ‘add and replace’, it was pretty much unreadable.

If we are agreed on the need for a national contract, why all the additions and reordering?

Because, whilst the aim – to regain collective bargaining rights and win a national contract – is entirely correct, the strategy set out in the original motion is entirely inadequate to achieve this.

To suggest that we can win back the collective bargaining rights we lost in 1987, a binding national contract, a 10% pay rise and doubling of PPA in the current economic climate through a single campaign of national action is dangerously misleading.

It would lead to defeat and demoralisation.

I think it is completely fanciful to believe we could secure significant changes like these through ‘one big push’.

Even more worrying, the motion suggests that we should use a disaggregated ballot so that, if we can’t win majority support from our members, those where we do have a majority can carry the fight for us.

Disaggregated ballots can be used to great effect, particularly against composite employers, as shown by our recent sixth form college action. By taking action in the colleges where we were strongest, we targeted individual employers so that, when the next round of negotiations came up, the employer body made a substantially improved offer, under internal pressure from employers concerned about further action.

The same principle cannot be applied to a national government. We cannot force the government to the negotiating table by bringing out isolated pockets of our membership.

So, if the proposed strategy is inadequate, what is the alternative?

I believe that we need to learn the lessons of our own history.

We gained collective bargaining rights in 1919, following a wave of workplace militancy. Employers facing strong workplace unions, forcing up pay and conditions, readily agreed to national collective bargaining in an attempt to contain this militancy, and those national bargaining structures gave unions real industrial power.

We must not limit ourselves to national action alone.

Winning collective bargaining rights and a national contract for all education workers will need a protracted struggle at all levels. That struggle needs to be built from the base and this begins with the work we are doing now on directed time, on the gender pay gap and on challenging performance related pay.

It may not be as easy as just calling another national ballot but this is the concrete work needed to win collective bargaining rights and a national contract for all education workers. We must not shy away from it.

Please support this amendment and let’s get on with the hard work needed to win real change.

A National Contract for Education

Proposer: Sean McCauley

Seconder: Nicky Downes 

The executive believes that:

1. Deterioration in staff pay and conditions and the resulting deterioration in students’ learning conditions requires urgent action to reverse it;

2. Lasting improvements have not yet been achieved;

3. We should call on Government to negotiate a ‘National Contract for Education’, binding on all employers;

4. Organising around a range of Contract demands, can help bring together grievances into one unified campaign;

5. While calling for negotiations, we should prepare for a national ballot for strike action, by preparing to beat the Trade Union Act thresholds;

6. Disaggregated ballots will allow the Union to pursue action to make employer-by-employer gains, alongside national negotiations;

7. We can learn lessons on beating the thresholds from:

a. Recent SATs indicative ballots

b. Successful Sixth Form sector ballots

c. Successful district wide ballots

d. UCU’s and the CWU’s successes in national ballots

Conference instructs the Executive to:

A. Commence negotiations on these demands:

I. A 10% pay rise for all staff

II. Guaranteed pay progression. End performance-related pay.

III. Trade-union negotiated pay scales plus additional London and Fringe allowances that properly meet the additional cost of living.

IV. A minimum 20% planning, preparation and assessment time for all within the timetabled week.

V. A maximum working week, with a legal limit to working hours.

VI. Trade-union negotiated policies that ensure teachers can complete all their duties within this limit.

VII. A trade-union negotiated class size and staffing policy.

VIII. JCNCs to be set up with every school and employer.

B. Investigate immediately the successes of unions in winning area wide and national ballots and share the results with district officers, reps and members.

C. Draw up a subsequent plan and timetable on how to win a national ballot for action including training for reps and district officers.

Amendment to Executive motion 3

Proposer: Gawain Little

Seconder: Emma Mort

Delete all and replace with.

The executive believes that: 

  1. Deterioration in staff pay and conditions and the resulting deterioration in students’ learning conditions should be a source of grave concern for all those concerned about the future of our society;
  2. Strong union groups, supported by branches and national union can make gains and yet lasting improvements have not been achieved at a national level – rather, we have seen a race to the bottom;
  3. Organising around a range of Contract demands, can help bring together grievances into one unified campaign;  
  4. We should issue a call on Government to negotiate a ‘National Contract for Education’, binding on all employers – as happens in most other OECD countries;
  5. The idea that we could win such a contract through a process of national action alone is not supported by the material facts and could lead to a damaging setback in our campaign for a national contract and for the union more broadly;
  6. Whilst disaggregated ballots can be used as an effective tactic to put pressure on composite employers, they have major weaknesses against a single employer, rendering them particularly ineffective against national governments;
  7. We will only achieve a unified national contract through a protracted struggle at workplace, local and national level, winning and embedding concrete improvements at each stage and building the confidence of our members to raise their expectations;
  8. While calling for negotiations, we should learn the lessons of the Covid period and prepare materials to be launched nationally to help make gains at workplace level and to press for bargaining at the widest possible levels- schools, local authorities, MATs, and groups of MATs;
  9. The 1265 hours campaign is well placed as an initial step to unite much of the workforce, to develop workplace organisation and lay the basis for future campaigning on workload; 
  10. Employer level ballots for sustained strike action will allow the Union to pursue action to make employer-by-employer gains, spreading success and building our strength for wider action in the future 
  11. We can learn lessons on the importance of rep density, member density and focussed campaigns to the process of beating the thresholds from: 
    1. Recent SATs indicative ballots 
    2. Successful Sixth Form sector ballots 
    3. Successful district wide ballots 
    4. UCU’s and the CWU’s successes in national ballots

The executive agrees to:

  1. Continue to pursue the 1265 campaign, and Bargaining for Professionalism strategy as part of implementing conference motions on pay, PRP and workload;
  2. Report on the successes of union branches in winning area wide or MAT wide ballots and share the results with district officers, reps and members;
  3. Produce a paper on the effectiveness of different industrial action approaches, including national action, disaggregated ballots and co-ordinated campaigns of workplace and local action to force up terms and conditions;
  4. Draw up a subsequent plan and timetable on how to take forward a campaign to win at school, MAT and Local authority levels including training for reps and district officers;
  5. Approach NASUWT NAHT ASCL to seek their support for key aspects of this campaign.