Stefan has visited 55-60 schools – he’s lost count of the exact number – this term, out of 80 in the west London borough. Having a motorbike has helped, by enabling him to reach six or seven schools in a week, with three in one day possible, “at a push”.
He gets into schools usually through the network of reps he has built up over the years.
He says: “The key in all of this is rep density. The people getting the vote out are the reps: they’re going round people and showing them how to vote. Every night I spend an hour calling reps to speak to them.
“In the years building up to this I’ve always tried to focus on building up the rep density in Ealing. Not just on paper, but actual quality, proper reps who have been on the union training. They can build up teams around them, particularly in secondary schools.
“You can’t get reps by wishing for them, you have to work really hard. It’s a bit like painting the Forth Bridge because as soon as you get one in one place, one moves on somewhere else. You can increase rep density if you make it your priority, because when the big moments come in the union, like now, you have a lot of reps willing to give up their time and do stuff.”
I can’t guarantee them victory, but I can guarantee them defeat if we don’t fight.
Stefan is using this campaign, “whether we get to 50% in the ballot or not” as an opportunity to get more reps like this. He says Lambeth has got 17 new reps from this process, while he has got eight more, with two “upgrades” where reps “who are more fired up about it” take over from those who have not been active in the role.
In the meetings, Stefan tries to give a “motivating speech”. He explains. “I argue that we need to stand and fight and take strike action. I can’t guarantee them victory, but I can guarantee them defeat if we don’t fight.
“Often there will be someone who says ‘Stefan’s right, we don’t have a choice, workload’s awful, our backs are against the wall, etc.’ Every school that I’ve gone into has endorsed the need to strike. Not one person says no.”
Stefan supports the reps by making sure they know exactly what needs to happen, asking them to update membership lists and make sure all members fill out the indicative ballot form.
“In 2016, 35% of my membership voted in the paper ballot, one of the highest,” he says. “But when we called them out, 80-85% of my membership took strike action, so what happened to the 50%? They just didn’t get around to voting.
“But I point out that we won’t be able to do that this time because of the anti-trade union laws. We need to know you’re going to vote.”
Now Stefan is focusing on getting into schools without reps. In this, an unexpected source of support has been headteachers. “Because they’re angry about the funding crisis, I am having pleasant conversations with heads who previously have viewed me unfavourably. On this issue we all agree.
“So, I ask headteachers to arrange a day for me to come and run a meeting, and they do. They advertise it on noticeboards and in announcements. Some ask to come along to the meeting and in some of those they even endorse the message to strike. They’re the ones who have to agonise over the funding, they fret over making people redundant, they have sleepless nights.”
Stefan’s step-by-step guide to building the ballot:
- Start where you’re strongest: call your most active reps and ask them to call a couple of others.
- Offer to support reps to run a school meeting if they’re not confident.
- In the meeting, ask members to get their phone out and vote there and then.
- Ask the rep to try to speak to any member not at the meeting to make sure they’ve voted.
- In schools with no rep, speak to the head teacher and ask them to facilitate a meeting.
- Consider organising a phone bank to call members in schools you can’t visit.