A struggle in Bradford, a city of significant size in the UK, will sound familiar to many teacher union activists fighting similar battles with school owners who wish to turn back conditions in schools to Victorian times. What makes the Bradford situation unusual is that the employer is a chain of 18 schools run by the local Church of England Diocese. 

Despite the fact that UK teachers have “national terms and conditions” the chain imposed worse conditions. To retaliate for the Bradford branch of  National Education Union's opposition to these conditions during contract negotiations, the chain decided to dismiss staff and offer them re-employment  but only on the worsened terms.

All of this is highly unusual for state-funded schools in England up until now, though academy (charter) schools have had the power to do so for the last 10 years. The National Education Union (NEU) has organized mass meetings which a few hundred people attended and union organizers have been building solidarity in the schools affected. All of the unions that represent school workers have been collaborating, and the NEU is currently taking a vote (ballot) for strike actions. 

To try to undercut organizing, the chain is trying to keep union organizers from entering schools. More than 70 members came out of one of the schools to meet union organizers, responding to calls on social media and phone from the union. This mass action demonstrated that if union organizers aren’t allowed in the building to meet with teachers, teachers will go out. 

A Facebook group has been very useful in strengthening solidarity and the unions are seeing success in having the worsened conditions that were unilaterally imposed withdrawn.

Pictured: Ragged schools for girls and boys were set up from 1844 to educate poor children. The president of the Ragged Schools union was Lord Ashley, who later became Lord Shaftesbury. This is a print showing a Ragged School for boys. From http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/victorianbritain/divided/source1.htm