Sunday, 17 June 2012

Local Associations Network Conference meets in Liverpool

Over 100 NUT delegates gathered in Liverpool on June 16 for the founding Conference of the ‘Local Associations Network’.

The Conference was called in response to the failure of the NUT Executive majority to call further national action on pensions since November. Every speech reflected the frustration at the resulting loss of momentum but also a determination to rebuild national action on pensions, pay and conditions.

As Julie Lyon-Taylor, Liverpool NUT Secretary and NUT Executive member, said in opening the meeting, “we’re not here to sit and complain but to take action forward”.

Patrick Murphy, Leeds NUT and NUT Executive, explained that “What’s happening here today is a model for how trade unionists react when things go badly. When you have a setback you organise"

David Plews, a Lewisham delegate complained that the NUT Executive “had got scared, but my members didn’t get scared, they want to know what’s happened to the pensions campaign”. Jane Nellist from Coventry NUT explained how our inaction had damaged the NUT’s reputation as a fighting Union and let down PCS, UCU and others looking to co-ordinate action. “Teachers have power because when we strike, people can’t go to work. We have to use that power”.

Teachers certainly can’t work until they’re 68. The pressures in schools mean many are already forced out before the present retirement age of 60. Peter Glover from Liverpool described how many teachers felt they were “one classroom observation from the sack” with constant critical management visits to lessons being used to bully and intimidate staff.

The afternoon session concentrated on building support for the new NUT national ballot to extend our action beyond pensions and allow both strike and non-strike action on issues like excessive workload, observations and threats of fast-track ‘capability’ sackings.

The Conference voted to build for the biggest possible majority and turnout in that ballot, which opens on June 25. The prospect of united action with the other main teaching union, the NASUWT, will help encourage support. But the hold-up in the pensions campaign will have undermined confidence that the NUT has a clear strategy to win. The Conference resolved to call on both unions to implement a serious strategy to defeat these serious attacks facing teachers and education.

An amendment from Lewisham NUT was unanimously agreed calling for an escalating program of national action, starting from as early as possible in the autumn term, and to call on other teaching and non-teaching unions to join with us in setting that calendar of action.

The Conference concluded by voting unanimously for a statement formally launching the “Local Associations Network” and to organise a recall Conference next term. A proposal that the recall event be organised jointly with the Editorial Board of the ‘Campaign Teacher’ newspaper was defeated. Unity is important, but it has to be on a principled basis. Most delegates agreed that giving influence to a grouping that includes NUT Executive members that had opposed national strike action in March and June could compromise the Network’s aims. However, to show the inclusive nature of the Network, it was agreed by that each supporting Association would be entitled to a representative on the Steering Committee.

Roy Bowser, Barnsley NUT Secretary and a miner active in the 84-85 strike, closed the meeting. In his speech he highlighted the viciousness of the present government and called for an organisation that can meet the challenge and mobilise school workers for the fight. Speaking after the meeting, Roy said that the meeting “surpassed all my expectations but more to the point was a true outlet for the way most members are feeling. I think behind the rhetoric there is a real base for a rank and file bottom up push that hopefully will now help shape strategy.”

This Network, already supported by over 30 different Associations from a range of different areas and traditions, can be a powerful force both to pressurise from below for national action and to strengthen organisation at a local level too. Our immediate task is to build for a big ‘YES YES’ vote in the new national ballot.

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