On 1st February, hundreds of thousands of us went on strike, showing how our schools cannot function without us. That day was exciting and empowering, but if we want to win these disputes and build workers’ power within the education sector, we have to use this initial energy as a launching pad for bigger and better things.

That’s why a group of us have come together to create Marked Absent, rank and file bulletin for school workers. We want this bulletin to be a place to share local updates about how the strike is going, debate about our ongoing strategy, and organise activity that NEU, EiS and other education unions cannot. We plan to publish a bulletin for the regional rounds of strike action, and then one for each day of national strike action in March.

Bulletins have historically had important roles in intervening in workers’ struggles, especially big disputes such as ours. For example, The University Worker bulletin helped to stop a sell-out deal in the 2018 national university strikes, and more recently forced the UCU union to take stronger, escalating action in their dispute. We want to similarly give a voice to and build the organisational capacity of rank and file school workers, and ensure our dispute goes in the direction we want it to.

We also want to invite submissions (on the form below) in advance of strike days for school workers to share what plans they have - as well as what they would want to do during and around the strikes to strengthen our leverage.

The Current Disputes

The current strike action being taken by school workers across England, Wales and Scotland is exciting for a number of reasons.

Firstly, these strikes are demonstrating something that we’ve already known; that our schools are the centres of our communities, and that the national economy cannot function without us playing our vital role. School strikes do not just mean a day of missed lessons for students. When schools close, it means parents cannot go into work, and if parents cannot go into work, it potentially forces various other workplaces across the country to shut down too. It often feels very isolating being a trade union activist in a school. However, the 1st February strikes and demonstrations show us that we’re not alone. More and more teachers are getting organised and are open to organising. The moment is ripe for translating the strength of feeling we felt during that first strike day into confidence in our local contexts.

The numbers of those taking strike action is also eye-watering. At least 300,000 school workers across England and Wales, and a further 50,000 in Scotland, are striking. Almost all of Scotland’s 5,000 schools have been shut by EiS members’ action, and 23,000 schools in England and Wales were closed to some degree by our national strike action on 1st February. Every city, town and village, however large or small, is affected by our strike. Together, our action constitutes something beyond just another industrial dispute - it represents the real possibility to produce a mass politics that has the power to demand a real transformation in society.

Finally, this strike has already encouraged forms of struggle that we’ve failed to see in other disputes in this current strike wave. Despite just missing the required ballot turnout for legal strike action in England, many support staff across schools in England have still refused to go into work on strike days, and have instead joined teachers on the picket lines. This wildcat action, that recognises we are stronger when we strike together, is a truly exciting development that our strike has brought to the table. If nurtured, this sort of action could generalise, increasing and potentially spreading to other sectors involved in this strike wave.

Why We Need a Rank and File Bulletin

Despite the exciting characteristics of our dispute, we cannot take anything for a given. We cannot have blind faith that our unions’ leaderships will continue calling the sort of action we want and/or need to win these disputes. There are also a number of activities that we can organise as rank and file members, but know our unions will not formally call for.

When talking about the ‘rank and file’, we are referring to ordinary members and workers, as opposed to full-time union officials. Those of us who work on the ground in schools have a different relationship to this struggle than those who work for or represent the union full-time. Whether full-time officials came out of the shopfloor or not, whether they were elected or appointed, whether they are well-meaning or cynical, they fundamentally have a different relationship to our struggles than we do. They have a different relationship because they are one step removed from the workforce. They have been taken out of the direct arena of conflict between bosses and workers and instead, in effect, mediate between us, the workers, and the bosses. It is therefore we have a platform to make sure our views and interests, as the rank and file, are being represented.

There is still a long way to go though in these disputes. Strike action in Wales was called off by the NEU leadership whilst new pay settlements were discussed. This stripped members of the ability to continue striking and keep the pressure on the government whilst an offer was talked over - although thankfully the mediocre pay deal on offer has now been rejected by the membership. Elsewhere, it’s been rumoured schools have been given ‘strike exemptions’ by the union leadership, so that they can prepare for upcoming OFSTED inspections. More recently, pressure has been building on the union from the government for our strikes to be cancelled as a prerequisite for negotiations. It’s important that rank and file school workers have a way to make their voice heard, and co-ordinate against union decisions that have been imposed on the membership.

Additionally, whilst we have effectively shut down most teaching activity, many schools are still managing to open for parts of the student population. This has mitigated the impact of our strike action, as these schools are continuing to act as child caring hubs, therefore allowing parents to go into work. We need to come together and collectively discuss how we can further strengthen and escalate the impact of our strike.

If we want to fully shut down our schools on strike days, then the current wildcat action by some support staff in England must be generalised. We know the national unions will never call for or endorse such action: they are too scared of being sued by the government for doing so. However, we, as rank and file school workers, can organise to further this sort of activity. We can go round schools in our local areas on strike days, handing out flyers and talking to support staff. We can arrange walking pickets that move from one school to another, encouraging support staff to mobilise and join our strikes. A rank and file bulletin can act as a coordinating centre for deciding and mobilising this sort of activity.

It must also be mentioned that the strike action called so far by our unions has also been regionally disparate. Whilst both EiS in Scotland and NEU in England and Wales have had symbolic national strike days to open their disputes, both unions’ leaderships have also decided going forward that different regions will mostly strike on different days. A bulletin can help share experiences and tactics between regions on different strike days. It can also help build rank and file organisation from the bottom up of our unions, so we can ensure that, when the time comes, our unions call the escalating and unified action that we need to win our disputes.

Get Involved!

What is the plan then? We want to bring together school workers and supporters of their strikes to create a rank and file bulletin on certain strike days. This means workers in different workplaces writing reports, discussing our ongoing strategy, and distributing the bulletin on picket lines in our local areas.

If this sounds like your sort of thing, then join our WhatsApp broadcast group here.

If you want to send in a report on the school strikes, then fill out our form here.

Let’s get organised, beat the bosses, and build our power!

To submit thoughts or a report to the bulletin, please complete the form below (or use the direct link here: https://airtable.com/shrMN70sXRvU6XNq1)


Marked Absent

Marked Absent is a rank-and-file bulletin produced by school workers, for school workers. It was initiated during the 2023 national school strikes.