In late 2022, the GMB, Unite and Unison issued a formal complaint to the TUC against the NEU alleging that “the NEU had actively sought to recruit school support staff and had intervened in pay negotiations between the three recognised unions and the local government employers, which cover school support staff.”
Members of the GMB, Unite and Unison responded, unsuccessfully, with a petition calling for a withdrawal of the complaint.
The claim was in response to a prior agreement made between all four unions that the NEU should not “recruit nor organise in areas already covered by other recognised TUC unions.” NEU leaders likely agreed to this proposal to appease the larger unions, but whether it’s members would have also agreed is unknown given that they were not consulted.
The TUC disputes panel ruled in favour of GMB, Unite and Unison claiming that they “have exclusive bargaining rights for school support staff. It also explicitly stated that in future the NEU should take no action that could be regarded as organising activity among these workers.”
The NEU has been ordered to pay £153,952 to GMB, Unite and Unison.
Support staff NEU members have been delegitimised through an unmandated NEU executive decision, greedy opposing unions viewing their members as nothing more than subscription fees and the TUC dispute panel.
Prior to this information becoming public, in pay negotiations between the NEU and the Welsh government, Welsh support staff were completely side-lined. This is despite Welsh support staff having reached the anti-union strike ballot thresholds, and subsequentially going out on strike.
The NEU’s leadership have not stated their reasons for side-lining Welsh support staff in pay discussions, but considering the TUC agreement and ruling, we can make an educated guess.
The negotiations resulted in a fully funded 11.8% consolidated and 1.5% non-consolidated pay deal for Welsh teachers only. Importantly, this still amounts to a pay cut amid years of underfunding and escalating inflation.
At the NEU National Conference, district branches voted in favour of re-balloting support staff members. However, in the NEU’s most recent formal ballot renewal for strike action, support staff members were noticeably absent – they opted to only ballot teacher members.
Local districts responded, given the lack of directly democratic procedures, by resorting to protesting their own union. NEU members signed petitions and attended picket lines and rallies with banners demanding a support staff re-ballot.
As support staff members became increasingly despondent with the union and more likely to leave, the NEU Executive bowed to the pressure and agreed to hold a separate support staff re-ballot for strike action.
Despite this, NEU trade union officials frame the union in messaging of worker empowerment and rank and file control; claiming that the NEU is its members.
Yet, in a truly democratic structure members should not have to resort to clunky mechanisms and procedures, such as protesting and petitioning, and hope that executive interests align with member interests, to be part of the decision-making process.
The decision made at the NEU National Conference to re-ballot support staff was mandated by members of local districts and should have been the final verdict. Instead, the NEU Executive had to approve.
In Social Democratic unions, membership and union leadership are two separate entities with similar but often competing interests. The union structure is not an unfiltered expression of their member’s interests, but instead an organisation built into capitalist economics and the state.
They have a paid workforce with pension schemes and political power. Their primary interest is to maintain themselves as an organisation where all they need to do is convince members that they are better off in a union than outside one. Even if this means ignoring or delaying member demands in favour of executive power.
Anarcho-syndicalist organising offers a self-managed, participatory and directly democratic alternative. Decisions are made by members without the impedance an overruling leadership structure.