Sunday, 7 June 2009

Giving NUT members a choice in this election

A letter recently circulated by Bill Greenshields, the NUT ‘Ex-President’, stating his preferences for the upcoming union elections, has apparently caused a bit of a stir.

As it states boldly on our new Lewisham NUT banner, I agree that ‘unity is strength’ and so pulling trade unionists together to fight for our common interests is vital. That’s why I have been pleased that, putting aside our differences, both Bill and I have been supporters of the “No2EU, Yes to Democracy” initiative that started to provide a trade-union backed alternative to our sleazy privatising politicians in the June 2009 European elections.

I also agree with Bill that Local Associations and NUT members should have a chance to decide for themselves which candidates they want to support in union elections, rather than particular groupings believing that they have the right to impose on the Union who is allowed to stand – and who isn’t.

I’m used to the argument being made against me – for example at both the recent NUT nomination meetings in Lancaster and Bristol – that I’m not part of the ‘left slate’ of candidates chosen by the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) or Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU). However, in both cases, the argument didn’t cut much ice with most teachers present – they were most interested in each candidate’s merits and demands – rather than which groups backed them. I’m glad to say that, on that basis, both meetings chose to give one of their nominations for Vice-President to me.

I know that the choice of this year’s VP and DGS candidates has proved controversial within the STA and CDFU. It has led to Simon Jones deciding to stand for VP separately to the CDFU’s official choice of Ken Cridland. Without agreement on a single candidate, Hazel Danson and Kevin Courtney are also now both seeking nomination for DGS. But what’s wrong with having that debate as part of the election? NUT members can hear the arguments and use their transferable vote to order their choice of preferred candidate.

Like Bill, I have my own preferences. I will not be supporting his choice of Martin Reed for DGS but will be backing Kevin Courtney. While Kevin and I have differed, e.g. over ‘cover supervisors’ at the 2009 Conference, I believe that, of the three DGS candidates, he is most willing to build the united action that we need to take to defend teachers and education. For me, Martin Reed is too much part of the ‘old guard’ that has held back such action for too long - while teachers’ working lives have got worse and worse.

I also can’t agree with Bill when he argues that, because of the undoubtedly serious threats to education, ‘factions’ in the Union should just put their arguments aside and all agree to ‘unite’. The logic of this approach is that there should be no elections at all, just leaving the leadership to decide who takes what post amongst themselves (Of course, leaving out those individuals, like myself, who aren’t part of any of the various groupings presently in the Union leadership!!).

Of course, there’s no room for petty squabbles because unity is indeed strength – but unity around what action strategy? When you face a serious threat, you also need a serious debate about how best the Union can respond to it. That’s what these elections are all about – to decide who can provide the best leadership with the correct strategy to answer the attacks on our conditions and on comprehensive education.

I am standing because I believe that I can help provide that leadership - as do others who are backing me, particularly many supporters of ‘Classroom Teacher’. I think anyone who knows me, or who reads my election materials, will be clear what I stand for.

Above all, I am campaigning for schools to be funded to meet the real needs of staff and students. Schools need more teachers, not less, so as to cut teacher workload. We also need staff to provide appropriately qualified cover and support to meet the needs of all our school students. But how can we win that? - by implementing the Union policy that I have argued for and won at successive Annual Conferences, calling for national strike action to be built for and organised to win our demands.

If you agree with my policies and if, in Bill’s words, you want the Union leadership to be “responsive to the whole membership and the diversity of view within it”, then please make sure that my views are indeed represented within that leadership by electing me as NUT Vice-President.

Martin Powell-Davies

Look at the comments below for a quick reply from Bill

2 comments:

bill greenshields said...

Thanks Martin for replying to my letter to Associations. I too value an open exchange of views.

You say,
"I also can’t agree with Bill when he argues that, because of the undoubtedly serious threats to education, ‘factions’ in the Union should just put their arguments aside and all agree to ‘unite’. The logic of this approach is that there should be no elections at all, just leaving the leadership to decide who takes what post amongst themselves"

What I was arguing was that there are times that the union needs to show absolute unity - a given the fact that there are really no policy differences between any of the candidates, the idea that each faction needs to put up their own candidate smacks of unnecessary and destructive sectarianism.

I think you forget another group in the Union that might put up candidates - the membership organised in their Associations,as a result of their own experience of the Union and people who have a history of giving a lead one way or another at national level.

My view is that there is simply no need for any grouping within the union to decide the candidates in advance as part of a closed factional process!

Just trust members - who are, after all what the Union is all about.

All the best

Bill

derekmcmillan said...

I understand entirely the point Bill is making. However, I also remember when the CPSA banned factions in the 1960s. What happened was that the "factions" went on meeting in private and there was even less "transparency" about procedings :)