Keep up the pressure on the Executive !The 300 London teachers that packed into the vibrant meeting in the same Mander Hall at NUT Headquarters just a few days ago would have been taken aback by some of the pessimism permeating some of the speeches opposing the call for action this term. However, the narrow margin of the vote – with 20 votes in favour and just 22 against – shows that the pressure from classroom teachers IS having an effect. Rather than getting downhearted, it’s now time to apply even more pressure on National Executive members to vote for the campaign of strike action that we need.
The official NUT press release following the meeting rightly states that “Michael Gove must understand that unless this onslaught against teachers’ pay, pensions and working conditions stops then strike action is inevitable. Teachers do not take strike action lightly but when the profession is being torn apart by a Government whose reforms have little to do with standards, or evidence, then the time to sit back has to end”. Unfortunately, teachers may well say after today, “but we’re still being told to sit back!”.
Go for March 13 - or delay once again?The timing of action was at the centre of today’s debate. Those of us supporting a national strike on March 13, which would have allowed the NUT to take action as part of the European TUC’s day of international action against austerity, tried to explain why we had to start action THIS term. After all, December’s NUT Executive had voted unanimously to build for strike action in this spring term!
Action at the end of the summer term alone will be too late to force Gove into retreating from his damaging threats, or, at the very least, into making some concessions to teaching unions. By then, the final legislation will have already been agreed by Parliament. Governing Bodies will already be meeting to discuss how to implement the plans for September.
By then, some schools, as NEOST, the employers’ organisation have mooted, will be deciding which teachers will receive a 1% annual increase, and which will receive nothing at all. NEOST also makes clear that they think Gove may insist that governors start to make pay decisions based on THIS year’s appraisal targets – blocking pay progression for teachers from September 2013. If we’re not careful, teachers will have concluded that the battle’s over before it’s really started!
How long can we wait for the NASUWT?Another point of difference was around how much longer we could wait for the NASUWT to confirm that they would be prepared to take national strike action alongside us. Max Hyde, proposing the unsuccessful objection, with Heather McKenzie from Hertfordshire seconding, argued that we couldn’t delay further when we still had no firm commitment from the NASUWT. After all, as Max’s proposal stated, our membership surveys suggest that NUT members were – give or take a few percentage points - as ready to act alone as with the NASUWT. However, by that narrow majority, the Executive voted to wait to see what further discussions could bring and, as the NUT press release states, “We expect to make further announcements on our next course of action next month.”
Regrettably, that means that, for now, another opportunity has been lost to build the kind of pressure that could still force Gove to retreat. Mandy Hudson, the Executive member elected from the Disabled Member Constituency, pointed out that "it's true that getting the NUT and NASUWT out together would mean 9 out of every 10 teachers on strike, but, right now, we've got 0 / 10 teachers taking action!". As Ian Leaver from Leicester asked, “what are the reps’ briefings over the next few weeks going to be for? They should be used to mobilise for action, not just canvass opinion”.
Time for the Executive to give a leadThe final main issue in the debate was that judgement about member ‘opinion’. All of the six London Executive members, reflecting the mood of that London rally, voted for the March action. Others, including some elected from the ‘Left’ in the CDFU group, struck a far more pessimistic tone, arguing that there was little mood for action. Jerry Glazier, from the ‘Broadly Speaking’ group argued that we must prepare for a long battle with strikes up to the general election. But, as I countered, this sounded like some kind of ‘political strike’ to support the Labour Party (and what difference will Twigg really make?). Teachers aren’t making those kind of political calculations, they want to know what’s going to happen to their pay and conditions by this September!
The evidence from the internal surveys and from most members’ meetings simply doesn’t justify this pessimism. Of course, the mood isn’t even across all schools and all regions; that’s inevitable. But, as I argued, a serious leadership should be confident that, in six weeks, we could build a strong national strike in March. We had no shortage of arguments to give to both teachers and parents to explain why Gove, in general, and PRP, in particular, had to be opposed. Instead of further delay, we had to go out and make those arguments and build action in March!
As after December’s Executive, the conclusion NUT members need to draw from today’s debate is that, if the Executive haven’t got the confidence to give a lead to NUT members, then NUT members will have to give confidence to the NUT Executive to give that lead and call national action!
Time is dangerously short - pile pressure on the NUT Executive before we meet again on Feb 28Time is now dangerously short, but pressure from below has been having an effect. Further pressure can make sure that the next NUT National Executive meeting on February 28th finally calls national action. That action could still start this term, perhaps even on the same day that the PCS are considering taking national action if their ballot is successful, around March 20th. Today’s close vote will also send a signal to the NASUWT that they cannot continue to prevaricate either and that, unless they want to haemorrhage support, they must also come out in support of national strike action.
The future of education, and of trade union organisation, is at stake. Gove is out to wreck education and rip apart our national pay and conditions. Today’s vote is a setback. Time is running short. But the stakes are too high to get downhearted. NUT members, reps and Local Associations - supported by LANAC, the Local Associations National Action Campaign, must pile on the pressure on their Executive members, particularly on those who voted against action in March today, and demand that a serious programme of action is called before it is too late.
UPDATE: A London NUT member has created an online petition calling on the Executive to vote for action. You can sign via: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/tell-the-nut-executive-to-call-the-strikes-we/