The December meeting of the National Executive heard excellent reports from around the country from the united strike action on November 30 – one of the biggest for generations and probably the biggest strike in Britain ever by women.
The Executive congratulated members for their magnificent support. In every area, more schools were closed than in June, there were more rallies and demonstrations - and a bigger turnout at those events. Feedback showed that school reps particularly enjoyed the high level of public support and the feeling of trade union unity.
The Executive noted the "concessions" offered by the Government, but affirmed that they nowhere near meet our objectives of protecting fair pensions for our members without unjustified increases in contributions.
Kevin Courtney spelt out how Osborne had thrown down the gauntlet to us all in the Autumn Statement: further attacks on pay, even more public sector job cuts, attacks on TUPE and national pay bargaining as well as accelerating the increase in the pension age.
Kevin also reported from the on-going negotiations which had not, as yet, yielded any substantial concessions. Ministers are still lying about pension costs and the nature of their ‘offers’. Nick Gibb’s latest email message even claims that “it would not be a sensible use of public funds to undertake costly actuarial valuations”. Clearly, it’s cheaper just to make things up !
The various union legal challenges to the change from RPI to CPI had been thrown out - but the NUT has been granted leave to appeal against the ruling on one area where there was a split judgement. One judge - although in a minority - did agree with the Union’s view that the Government had chosen CPI over RPI basically because it would save money and not because it was a better method to calculate price increases.
We also noted the determination of Government to maintain its offensive and how it had now wheeled out Lord Hutton to justify its actions (obviously stung by the fact that his own Report confirmed our arguments and National Audit Office evidence that, far from being unaffordable, the cost of public sector pensions is actually set to fall).
But, if we are all agreed that we are going to resist that offensive - then we have to continue – and escalate - our campaign. That’s why the Executive agreed a motion setting out a series of steps to maintain and develop that campaign in order to protect teachers, particularly young teachers.
Some of the key points we agreed were to:
- Seek to maintain unity with other unions in negotiations to protect our existing schemes;
- Continue to work to retain and build the broadest possible coalition of unions to campaign and act against the Government’s proposals. This could include private-sector workers as well as those in the public sector. For example, the NUT General Secretary supported my suggestion of sending a message of support to members of UNITE in Unilever plants taking strike action against cuts to their pension scheme;
- Produce further campaigning materials, including material targeted at young teachers;
- Survey members on willingness to take further action of all kinds – national, regional, selective;
- Call on the TUC to call a further day of strike action early in the New Year, and to consider further action beyond that;
- Call on the TUC to draw up plans for a national demonstration on pensions/austerity;
- Hold public lobbying events where ministers speak and visit, and at MPs’ surgeries and to approach the Labour Party to clarify their views;
- Assess the feasibility of a levy of members through the Direct Debit system to support further action - e.g. to support hardship claims;
- Investigate what action short of strike action can be taken to further our campaign - e.g. to work in united action with NASUWT colleagues;
- Hold emergency Executive meetings if decisions need to be made on actions, negotiations etc;
- Approach other unions, including those with members in the private sector, and the National Pensions Convention, to develop the ‘Fair Pensions for All’ campaign as a high-profile public campaign, involving stalls and petitions.
We cannot let the Government get away with their pensions robbery. Together, we can defeat it. So enjoy your Xmas break - but prepare for more action - and tell National Executive members what you think is needed to win.
… and don’t forget to make sure staff sign and send-off the “All I want for Christmas is our pensions back” Christmas Card for Mr Gove included in the latest national reps’ mailing from NUT Headquarters!