Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies on the ballot paper
National Education Union needs a socialist, fighting deputy general secretary
My campaign to be the first elected deputy general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) has met an important first target by achieving the minimum number of district nominations required to be on the ballot paper.
Although districts have been meeting to make their choice since January, nominations didn't officially open until the start of May. However, already over 15 have let me know they have voted to nominate me - exceeding the threshold set down in NEU rules. That number can now be added to by further district meetings this term, providing a firm base from which to mount a successful challenge in October's postal ballot of the whole membership.
I believe that my growing support is because NEU members are looking for clear and bold leadership to help defend both educators and education against a government that will be seeking to make us pay for the cost of their failures. That will mean yet more staff driven out by job cuts and further intolerable workload under the 'exam factory' conditions imposed by Ofsted, performance pay and league tables - unless we organise our national union strength to prevent those attacks.
After a stressful year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the pressures certainly haven't eased now that staff and students are all back in school. For example, many secondary staff are rightly complaining of the excessive hours demanded of them to provide teacher assessed grades for this summer's exam classes. More schools are announcing further job losses as cuts continue to bite, with support staff posts being particularly vulnerable.
Too often without adequate facility time and support, union caseworkers are struggling to keep up with the constant stream of members asking for union support. There is also a growing list of victimised school reps, targeted by bullying management seeking to push back against successes made by the union.
The successes of the school safety action in January showed what can be achieved when we combine a firm national lead with determined local organisation. Now we must fight even harder against the attacks on jobs, pay and working conditions. I am standing in this election to help make sure that we do.
At April's NEU annual conference, a motion to be proposed by Martin Powell-Davies calling for a 'national contract for education' was never reached. The proposal to bring together a range of key demands on pay, workload and staffing into one unified campaign seemed uncontroversial. No delegate had submitted a speakers' card to oppose it.
The motion's seconder, newly elected national executive committee member from Worcestershire, Sean McCauley, therefore put the proposal to the executive to make sure it was endorsed as policy. But, instead of backing it, another candidate for deputy general secretary, Gawain Little, tabled a 'delete all and replace' amendment that completely rewrote the motion.
So, backed by the overwhelming 'NEU Left' majority bloc, the national executive committee threw out all the proposed demands, including the call for "a maximum working week, with a legal limit to working hours" and for "a trade union-negotiated class size and staffing policy". But these are vital if we are to seriously tackle excessive workload and ongoing job losses.
While the debate ensured the union does now support a 'national contract' in principle, it has been left, for now, as a policy devoid of any clear content or any clear strategy to build the national action required to win it. Contrary to the claims of his opponents, Martin of course recognises the careful preparation that would be required to successfully hold a national ballot. But Martin would be a deputy general secretary who doesn't just talk about change but is serious about organising the action necessary to win it.
In The Socialist 12 May 2021: