Socialist Alternative

NEU exec elections – a moderate step forward for the grassroots left

The recent elections for the National Executive of the National Education Union (NEU) saw a number of gains for candidates from the Education Solidarity Network (ESN), the grassroots left in the Union. Crucially for Socialist Alternative one of our members, Louise Lewis, was elected to represent West and South Yorkshire, giving us a militant socialist voice on the Exec. 

Eight ESN supporters will now be on the Exec, including Patrick Murphy and Sheila Caffrey who topped the poll in their areas. Due to a technical error three districts have to be rerun, and further ESN supporters could be elected. While this is still a small presence, it is a clear opposition grouping which will resist the direction of the leadership towards further bureaucratism and being a “professional association”, and away from being a fighting union. 

Socialist Alternative campaigns

Socialist Alternative members in ESN ran vibrant campaigns for Exec positions, and James Kerr narrowly missed out in the Inner London District. Slogans we raised included “Time for change – let’s transform our Union from the ground up”. The need for change is clear, as education workers are increasingly working longer hours and often working in unsafe conditions – we need a fighting union to stop this. 

The misnamed “NEU Left” bloc continues to dominate the Exec, helped by a number of uncontested elections, and will continue to uncritically support the direction of the Union’s leadership. While posing as being radical, in reality they give “left cover” to an increasingly rightward-moving bureaucracy – and tolerate within their ranks openly transphobic views which further marginalise trans and non-binary members and children. It will be crucial to mount a wider challenge in more districts in future elections, preventing uncontested positions from simply being handed to the right. 

Despite the recent victory in January when the action of the NEU and other unions forced the Tories to retreat and close schools, the leadership and the majority of the Exec do not have a strategy to consolidate and build on these gains and win structural change, registering specific opposition towards disaggregated ballots which would enable the union to beat the Tory anti-union laws. This has also impacted on other issues, after the Exec voted overwhelmingly to remove calls for action and campaigning around a National Contract for all education workers, which would set out a legal limit to working hours. ESN members are an important opposition to such developments, despite being in a small minority. 

Rightward drift

As well as opposing the rightward drift of the leadership, ESN members can put forward a serious alternative strategy to fight the Tories. The demand for a National Contract is an important part of this and is rightly being raised as a key plank of the left candidate Martin Powell-Davies’ campaign for Deputy General Secretary. 

Left Exec members should also use their platform to raise awareness of, and bring solidarity to, different industrial struggles going on throughout the Union – as ESN member and Exec member Tracy McGuire did by visiting the picket line at Louise Lewis’ school twice. This support was important in the successful battle for Louise to be reinstated following her unfair suspension from work.

Sadly Tracy McGuire lost her seat as Support Staff representative, which is a blow to ESN and to support staff activists within the Union. The NEU’s agreement with the TUC regarding support staff prevents them from being adequately represented within the Union – recently a motion from the Support Staff Conference was amended by the Executive (unfortunately with support from full Conference) to remove an instruction for the Executive to seek to review the agreement. Tracy moved the motion and opposed the amendment – unfortunately her replacement on the Exec, Trish Fay, supported the amendment which will continue to marginalise support staff. The struggle to fully represent support staff within the Union will continue, as well as the fight to improve their pay and conditions in work. 

Low turnout

Turnout in the election was extremely low at below 7%, showing the need for fighting candidates who can inspire members to vote – and for the Union to do more to engage members at all levels. 

As a Socialist Alternative member, Louise Lewis will use her position on the Executive to amplify workers’ struggles, support anti-racist and anti-oppression movements, to represent other reps and activists who have faced victimisation at work, and to represent members in her district. The growing ESN group should be a voice for fighting grassroots activists, and will continue to build on the ground.