Saturday, 30 March 2013

Call to start campaign with national strike narrowly defeated at NUT Conference

NUT Conference in Liverpool today voted overwhelmingly to back the priority motion on "Protecting Teachers, Defending Education", thus endorsing the plan of action agreed with the NASUWT. This means that, at long last, a calendar of strike action, starting with a regional strike in the North-West on June 27th, is now set to begin. However, the main debate was over an amendment proposing that we start our action with a national NUT strike on June 26th.

After an impassioned debate, in which the evenly-divided applause for respective speakers left everyone guessing as to the final outcome, the amendment calling for this initial one-day strike was eventually narrowly defeated on a show of hands.

As proposer of this strengthening amendment, I am clearly disappointed that Conference rejected this opportunity to urgently engage and involve the whole membership through national strike action next term. However, we will now have to make sure that we build the joint action that has been agreed as strongly as we can, despite it meaning that some areas will have to wait a further six months before they take part even in regional strike action. With Gove out to divide schools and to steal thousands of pounds from teachers' incomes through his pay and pensions attacks, we have no choice but to act - and to act as boldly as we can.
LANAC meeting starts to fill on Friday evening
The text of the amendment, seconded by fellow NUT Executive member, Anne Lemon, had been agreed at a packed meeting of the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) meeting on Friday evening, with nearly 200 delegates in attendance.

LANAC will be meeting again on Monday evening to discuss how we can make the best of the plan that has been agreed. That has to include the urgent production of campaign materials, joint union meetings in schools and collections for hardship funds - initially to support colleagues striking in the North-West.

To confidently build that regional action, details of the proposed calendar of action after the summer break also urgently need to be announced by the NUT and NASUWT leaderships.

The LANAC amendment took nothing away from the jointly agreed plan. However, it sought to add two key points. Firstly, it sought to make clear that "the objectives of our campaign are to reverse these significant attacks on teachers’ pensions, pay and working conditions and, in doing so, to defend education".

In other words, we wanted members and Ministers alike to recognise that the NUT was engaged in a serious campaign with serious aims. We are not trying just to persuade Gove to sit down and talk to the unions in the hope of gaining some limited concessions. We should be serving notice that we will continue and escalate our campaign until he has withdrawn these attacks altogether.

The other clause of our amendment stated that "in order to increase the pressure on the Secretary of State for Education to meet our demands, Conference instructs the Executive to strengthen our campaign of action by calling a one-day national strike on 26 June and to seek to co-ordinate that action with other trade unions facing attacks on pensions, pay and working conditions".

Why would that national strike have been such an important start to the campaign?

1) Because Gove has, already, rejected our demands for even just a suspension of his performance-pay plans out of hand. Osborne had announced that he planned to make 'substantial savings' from blocking pay progression. As I asked Conference from the rostrum, "are we simply going to accept such a slap in the face?" If only Conference had responded by upping the ante - and voting to call national strike action next term!

2) Because we  urgently need to engage and involve every member, in every region, next term. Next month, take-home pay will be cut again through higher pensions contributions. In just a fortnight from today, the performance-pay regulations will be legislated for in Gove's new School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document. If we are not just going to get caught in a quagmire of isolated battles over school pay policies, but are instead to make clear to teachers that we are also battling to reverse these regulations, we need to raise members' sights and confidence to oppose these attacks. Stunts and rallies alone are not enough. A campaign for a national strike could have achieved that involvement.

3) Because we don't want to be just hitting the headlines in the North-West in June, we want to be hitting the national headlines - as really only a national strike can achieve. If we had voted to start the campaign with a national strike on June 26, we could also have hit the headlines tomorrow by making this bold statement that we were responding to Gove's arrogant rejection of Union demands by announcing a national strike next term.

Regrettably, that strategy was narrowly defeated at Conference.  The main argument - indeed really the only argument - used to oppose the amendment was to frighten delegates with the prospect that the NASUWT might walk away from the joint plan altogether if the NUT were to announce that we were going to also strike nationally on June 26. Yet would the NASUWT really have been able to get away with pulling out of the joint plan in the face of such severe attacks on teachers and education? Just because the NUT had called for an additional day of national strike action? Surely both unions are more serious about fighting to defend teachers and education than that?

Given the factors outlined above, I would have hoped that the NASUWT could have also been persuaded to participate in an additional national strike in June. Even if they had only felt able to stick to the previously agreed plan, the NUT would not have been acting alone on June 26. We could have sought to co-ordinate the action with other unions, not least the PCS.

Unfortunately, and in an intervention that may have played some part in the eventual outcome, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka did not call on the NUT to join with other unions in taking co-ordinated strike action on June 26. Instead, at a fringe meeting following the LANAC meeting, he intimated his support for the joint NUT/NASUWT plan of action and cautioned against Conference taking any decisions that might jeopardise that plan. Regrettably, those arguments were taken up by the National Executive speakers opposing the LANAC amendment today to help argue against joint action with the PCS.

So, barring any significant change of circumstances - for example if Gove's new Pay and Conditions
Document is even worse than feared - it is now unlikely that national NUT/NASUWT strike action will take place until November 2013. The  North-West regional strike on June 27th will, however, still see a start to at least some kind of calendar of action, with further regions taking action in September and October. We must make absolutely sure that this is, indeed, just the start of an ongoing and escalating campaign, continuing until our objectives are achieved.

Those on the NUT Executive who cautioned against an initial one day national strike have a particular responsibility to make sure that this joint plan is fully rolled out - and continued - as promised. In truth, it will be those of us in LANAC who called for this strengthening amendment who, while being narrowly defeated at Conference today, will now work as hard as anyone for the agreed plan of action to succeed.

With the new legislation shortly to be on the statute books, the battle will have to start locally with efforts to secure acceptable pay policies in schools, Academy chains and Local Authorities - policies that at least go some way to neutralise the worst of Gove's performance-pay plans. Despite the lack of the national strike action in June which would have helped involve and unite members in preparing for struggle, LANAC can play an important role in encouraging Local Associations and school reps to engage in that battle, and to seek to co-ordinate local strikes across schools and Associations where employers try to impose unacceptable policies.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Conference 2013 - serious attacks require serious action

NUT Conference 2013 meets to debate how best to defend teachers at a time when our members, and education as a whole, are under fierce attack.

As the best organised teaching union, the NUT has a huge responsibility to use our strength to push back a Government determined to drive through its agenda of cuts and privatisation.

If teachers go out and explain how the ConDems' attacks on pensions, pay and conditions are part of a broader attack on education, large sections of the public can be won to support our action, just as they were when unions took national action in 2011. If we organise effectively and mobilise around a clear programme of action, then we can force them to retreat. 

Gove has talked of declaring 'war' on the teaching unions because he knows our potential strength. When we take action, thousands of schools are closed, working lives and the economy widely disrupted, trade union opposition to cuts clearly displayed in every community.

This Government is not confident that it can push through its plans. It knows that, beneath the surface, there is massive discontent at the banksters and the super-rich that they represent. With its cuts packages threatening a 'triple-dip' recession, they are struggling to show that they have any solution to the continuing economic crisis.  

Yet throughout 2012, the Con-Dems must hardly have been able to believe their luck. The retreat by unions like UNISON and ATL over pensions left other unions isolated and significant  joint national action was not repeated again after November 2011. That retreat also left some  in the NUT seemingly struggling with a crisis of confidence.

Instead of leading the way as the NUT had done in June 2011, last year saw only a London regional strike which, although confirming that teachers would take action when a lead is given, wasn’t then followed by further major action. For over three months after Gove announced his performance-pay attacks in early December, no strike plans were announced.

Even the publicity for members seemed strangely muted with leaflets having to be produced by Local Associations, ‘Classroom Teacher’ and others, from below.

The conclusion was drawn that the NUT can’t act alone - it has to make sure the NASUWT acts with us too. Of course unions acting together adds strength - that’s why the Socialist Party has been to the fore in campaigning for the TUC to discuss and build generalised strike action. However, there’s a balance to be struck at each stage between the benefits of taking joint action and the risks of having to go at the speed of the slowest partner.

The NASUWT remains a difficult partner to negotiate with - certainly at the top. Hopefully, out of joint action, links can be strengthened from below that  can also put pressure on the NASUWT tops to maintain action.

The joint NASUWT/NUT 'action short of strike action' has won some gains and helped build union organisation in some schools. However, school-by-school action asks a lot of local union organisation and has inevitably been 'patchy'. Localised battles  are no substitute for national strike action to win our demands.

On pensions, we need to reverse the increased pension ages and win a pay rise that gives us back what we have lost to inflation and contribution increases. On workload we need to win the 35 hour limit on working hours, with a maximum of 20 hours pupil contact time, listed in Motion 55. Immediately, we have to fight to reverse the severe attacks on pay that will soon be legislated for in the Pay and Conditions Document.

Those are very serious demands to make - and they will need a serious struggle to achieve them. That struggle is having to be fought without a ‘political arm’. If elected, Labour promises to be little different to the Tories. For now, we have to rely largely on our trade union strength and   on support in our communities.

Immediately, we have to build  and escalate action on PRP. The NUT/NASUWT program marks, at last, a return to action, but it needs strengthening. It should start with national action, linking with unions like PCS in June. The plans for Autumn Term need to be announced and dates set for further escalating action in 2014.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Vigil for Lucy Meadows outside the Daily Mail offices

Over 200 people assembled for a vigil in front of the Daily Mail offices in Kensington this evening to mourn the passing of NUT member Lucy Meadows and to show our disgust at the article written about her in the newspaper by Richard Littlejohn.

Lucy, a teacher in Accrington, Lancashire, was becoming active in the Union and many thousands of NUT members across the country will have wanted to send their solidarity and condolences tonight - as we will also hope to at NUT Conference as well.

A petition on explains the background to the protest:

"Nathan Upton was a teacher at St Mary Magdalen's School in Accrington. Before the Christmas break the parents of children at the school were informed that after the break she was would be coming back to work after the holiday as Lucy Meadows.

It started out as confusion from parents, who simply didn't know what do think of it all, but most seemed to be simply concerned about the adjustment children would have to face rather than actively malicious. However, the more bigoted members of the community then went to the Daily Mail, where she was attacked by Richard Littlejohn who decided to single her out in the national paper.

No one deserves to have their lives turned upside down because of their gender identity being thrown into the national spotlight. The reason the parents who had a problem went to the Daily Mail is that there was no way to get her fired under equal opportunity law. So they tried to give the school bad press by saying how terrible it is that she is allowed to live her life freely. While little is known about the amount of abuse she ended up getting, the result is the same no matter what;

Lucy Meadows was found dead this week. If it was suicide, it was brought on from the hounding she received from Daily Mail readers. The possibility of this happening was enough for the daily mail to take down his original article without comment.

We, the undersigned, want a formal apology for the stress and pain that Richard Littlejohn and the Daily Mail caused Lucy Meadows and for Richard Littlejohn to be fired or resign from his post".

Thursday, 21 March 2013

PRP – A battle we have to win

A report from today's NUT National Executive

Today’s NUT National Executive put forward a Priority Motion to be debated at NUT Annual Conference on Saturday March 30 endorsing the joint plan of action announced earlier this week with the NASUWT.

That motion will now be circulated to Conference delegates but will be open to amendment in the debate. While much of the motion will receive unanimous support, I have made clear to Executive colleagues that I do think the action program needs strengthening. As Convenor of LANAC, I have today written to Associations inviting delegates to a fringe meeting to discuss what additions might be proposed.

As the Priority Motion correctly explains, Gove’s attack on our pay will, if not defeated, result in salaries being set school-by-school with profoundly discriminatory consequences. It will undermine teacher recruitment, retention and morale, damaging children’s education.

Yesterday’s Budget also made absolutely clear that Osborne wants to make ‘substantial savings’ by attacking our pay progression. He wants to make teachers, and other public sector workers, pay for a crisis that Osborne and his banking cronies were responsible for.

Regrettably, our delay in calling action may yet have encouraged Gove to go further. In mid-April, before we’ve taken action, the new Pay and Conditions Document will be published. The Union expects that this will confirm that the main blocks on pay progression won’t start until 2014 – but there’s still a chance that this could be imposed from 2013. We will also have to wait until later in the term to see if Gove will recommend that the 1% uplift for September 2013 applies to all teachers – or just a few.

As Osborne intends, budget cuts will be used to bully schools into blocking pay progression. Discussion at the Executive confirmed that Government funding for school budgets has been frozen – while inflation rises. Schools will also soon have to meet the cost of extra National Insurance contributions. If the cash isn’t there, schools will use performance-pay to make savings.

Schools won’t just be bullied by budgets. Ofsted is already putting them under pressure to follow Gove’s dictats. It was reported that an Oxfordshire school had just been found to be wanting by Ofsted for having passed the NUT/NASUWT recommended appraisal policy!

We have to make sure that our action program is strong enough to counteract that bullying and make sure that schools adopt pay policies next term that protect teachers from pay cuts. Of course, to really defend teachers and education, it needs to be strong enough to force PRP to be withdrawn.

The first battles next term are going to be to over those pay policies. An important strengthening amendment to the Priority Motion was agreed from the floor of the Executive making clear that we won’t just be fighting school-by-school but must also be prepared to take action across Academy Chains and Local Authorities if necessary. There will also be funds available to support sustained strike action to support these local battles.

Those local battles can make gains in well-organised schools groups and Local Associations but even the best-organised Association will struggle to have the capacity to monitor and support members across all the individual schools in their area. The best way to show united opposition – to both employers and to Ministers – is to build a firm national programme of strike action.

The pay rallies planned for April and May need to be built into substantial events ready to build substantial action. The program for action needs to be publicised. The NUT has stated that members in ALL areas will take part in a day’s regional strike action before Autumn half-term, followed by a national strike before Christmas. We also need to be producing materials for parents and teachers explaining why we are taking this action to defend education against Gove’s cuts and privatisation.

This is a welcome start but, in my opinion, it’s still not as bold as it needs to be to respond to the scale of threats that we face. That’s why the LANAC meeting (now on Friday March 29 at 6.15 pm) will be debating ways in which the existing recommendations can be strengthened:

• Should the programme of action start with a unifying national strike instead of regional action?

• Should action begin earlier in the summer term than June 27th?

• Can we also co-ordinate with other unions calling for joint action against Osborne’s cuts, like PCS?

Of course, the danger will be raised that such proposals risk jeopardising the agreement made with the NASUWT. But why should additional actions being taken by the NUT to strengthen the campaign cause the NASUWT to withdraw from the jointly agreed action? In particular, given the threats made across the public sector in yesterday’s Budget, wouldn’t it be best to escalate the proposed June action into a national strike rather than a regional one, and co-ordinate with other unions opposing pay and pension cuts like the PCS – and call on the NASUWT to join that national action as well?

NUT Conference will continue the debate over the Easter weekend.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Osborne threatens to get tough with our pay

In Cyprus, the 'Troika' are trying to blatantly steal from workers’ bank accounts. Today’s Budget shows that, in Britain, we are being robbed too. 

Instead of raiding our savings directly, Osborne wants to cut public sector pay so that they’ll be precious little left at the end of the month to save ! 

Real-terms pay-cuts and rising pension costs have already cut teachers’ incomes by 12% since 2010. Those cuts will continue with Osborne now extending the 1% public sector pay cap until at least 2015-16.

Budget cuts as a weapon to enforce PRP

But the news for teachers is far worse than that. Osborne made clear he was talking about an “average of up to 1 per cent” in pay awards – so not even 1% for everyone. Worse still, according to the FT blog, “the Treasury has advised departments that any progression pay in 2013-14 must be included in the 1 per cent pay rise cap for that year” ... and Osborne confirmed in his Budget speech that “We will also seek substantial savings from what is called progression pay” ... adding in his Tory tones “I know that is tough but it is fair”.

In other words, Osborne and Gove are going to use budget cuts as a financial weapon to enforce performance-related pay on schools.

There’s nothing ‘fair’ at all about such robbery. Ever since the 1920’s, teachers’ pay scales have been based on recognition that teachers’ pay builds up as staff gain experience and expertise in the classroom. Now they want to steal that away from us.

This is blatant robbery to steal away the gains of the past

This is blatant robbery. It’s nothing to do with providing jobs or improving the economy as Osborne wants us to believe. Face facts, George, your cuts are destroying the economy. 
The Office for Budget Responsibility has just slashed UK growth forecasts from 1.2% down to just 0.6% for  2013.

It’s obvious that ‘austerity’ isn’t going to restore jobs, services and economic growth. As Duncan Wheldon, TUC Senior Economist, pointed out at last weekend’s SERTUC Resisting Austerity Conference the graphs of economic 'recovery' for the UK just aren't showing 'recovery'!
The truth is, however, as Paul Murphy, Socialist Party MEP said when he spoke at the same Conference, that austerity IS working – for the bankers, bosses and bondholders. For them, profits are rising. Osborne today handed them more cash by announcing a further cut in corporation tax – down to 20% by April 2015, an 8% cut since the Con-Dems came to power.

As Paul put it, “austerity is not designed to cure the crisis but to take advantage of the crisis .. it’s designed to transfer wealth to the international bondholders ... and to be used as a ‘shock doctrine’ for neo-liberal capitalism to win back past gains".

Gove wants to cut pay and pensions to drive down school budgets to prepare for even further school privatisation – where edu-businesses will be allowed to directly generate profits out of school budgets.

Yet, what do they do with these profits? While millions are unemployed, the capitalists hoard their wealth, with an estimated 750 billion euros in excess cash holdings lying idle in the bank accounts in Europe’s top companies. Those banks and businesses should be taken under democratic public ownership so that those resources can be invested to genuinely plan sustainable growth, jobs and services.

Build co-ordinated national strike action

Today’s Budget will have further stoked the volcano of anger building under the surface. Events in Cyprus show that even neo-liberal politicians cannot always just ignore the pressure from below.

Osborne’s Budget makes clear that public sector workers are in the forefront of the Coalition’s attacks. Civil servants gave their answer immediately with the first of a series of national strikes called by the PCS. Now teaching unions need to take the same road.

After the retreat over pensions, the plan of action announced by the NUT and NASUWT gives teachers a chance to start taking steps to defend their pay, pensions and conditions. But today’s announcements on pay progression are another sign that we need to act with more urgency.

In response to my NUT Executive Report asking for views on the proposed joint action programme, school reps have been making clear to me that, instead of starting our action with a regional strike, they believe it needs to be national strike action. I agree with them.

In response to today’s vicious announcements, a national strike could be added to the action programme on May 1st, along the lines of the proposals agreed by Lewisham NUT’s AGM. Alternatively, the proposed June strike could be turned from a regional to a national strike, to link up with the PCS as Mark Serwotka proposed at last week’s pre-Budget TUC rally: “On 26 June George Osborne will ... announce his comprehensive spending review which will confirm the butchery of public spending for the next three years. What a brilliant day that would be - that while he announces cuts in parliament - to see as many people as we can taking industrial action together, demonstrating together and protesting together.

Today, Osborne made clear that he’s going to be ‘tough’ with our pay. If we are serious about stopping him, we need to be tough with our action.

Monday, 18 March 2013

NUT / NASUWT joint action welcome - but proposals fall short of what's required

Plans for joint action announced – but firmer action needed to protect teachers and education 

The announcement at today’s joint NUT/NASUWT Press Conference that plans are being put in place for joint strike action between the two main teaching unions, the NUT and NASUWT, will be welcomed by teachers who have been waiting since Christmas for national action to be called to oppose Gove’s plans to impose performance-related pay. However, as the details become clearer, we think that many members will feel, as we do, that these plans have to be strengthened if we are to successfully oppose Gove’s attacks on our pay, pensions and conditions.

Download an edited pdf version of this article from the Lewisham NUT website:

A school-term lost without action being called

It was in early December that Michael Gove made his announcement that, under legislation to be imposed after Easter, fixed incremental pay scales will be abolished and all future pay-rises would be tied to performance. In addition, teachers moving to new posts face the risk of huge pay cuts as their existing points on the pay scale will no longer be protected. This huge attack will leave teachers’ livelihoods dependent on arbitrary judgements of ‘performance’ and on the health - or otherwise - of an individual school’s budget. As the history performance-pay has always shown, it will also have a deadening and demoralising affect on education as a whole. All of this comes on top of the ongoing attacks on teachers’ pensions and the relentless workload still being imposed on staff.

Given the scale of the attack, and the speed at which these plans were being imposed, a minority on the NUT National Executive, including ourselves, have argued that national strike action should be called THIS term - in time to try and persuade Gove to back-down before legislation was enacted. Regrettably, and despite contrary evidence from elections, surveys and most Union meetings, we have been told that members weren’t ready to support strike action, and certainly not unless the NASUWT took joint strike action too. Strikes have not been called for this term and nor has a serious enough campaign begun to explain the threats facing teachers’ pay in order to build for that action.

Can we fight off these attacks school-by-school?

This term’s delay means that legislation will now become law before unions have taken action. As a consequence, all schools will be expected to adopt new pay policies that link pay rises with performance by the summer.

Regrettably, instead of starting with unifying national action, the battle will now be starting with school-by-school struggles to persuade governors to adopt pay policies that circumvent most of Gove’s plans. Given where we are now having to start from, the plans announced today for the NUT and NASUWT to publicise a joint pay policy are correct. However (and we have not yet seen the details of the policy ourselves), even the best policy will not be able to protect teachers moving to other schools where governors have refused to guarantee to protect existing pay points. Short of winning withdrawal of Gove’s legislation, unions will therefore need to mount a battle that can persuade the vast majority of schools to adopt an acceptable pay policy. How should that be done?

The NUT and NASUWT have also announced today that the ‘Action Short of Strike Action’ (ASOSA) campaign, launched jointly in September over workload, observation protocols and appraisal policies, be extended to cover pay policies too. The threat of non-strike action, escalating to strike action if required, has succeeded in making gains in well-organised schools groups and Local Associations. However, even then, compromises over the finer details of observation policies were sometimes made in order to reach agreement. The same may well happen over pay policies. 

The real weakness of such a school-by-school action approach is that, faced with intransigent management at a school and/or Local Authority level, some teachers will not feel confident in taking isolated action. In addition, even the best-organised Association will struggle to have the capacity to monitor and support members across all the individual schools in their area. The danger will be that less strongly unionised schools become isolated and only a minority adopt acceptable pay policies.

In order to overcome this isolation, action will need to be co-ordinated across as many schools as possible and, where Local Authorities refuse to recommend acceptable policies, across the whole Association. However, this requires that both unions adopt a far more urgent approach to warning teachers about these pay threats and in encouraging ‘ASOSA’ than has been seen up to now. But the best way to overcome isolation, and to show both teachers and governors that unions are serious about opposing these pay attacks, is to launch a vigorous campaign of national strike action. This should be combined with a bold public campaign to explain how Gove’s plans threaten education.

These plans are not strong enough to defend teachers

In our view, the plans announced today for joint action do not show Michael Gove, our members or Heads and Governors that we are taking this battle as seriously as we need to be. The plans suggest that there will be no national strike action in the summer term, just the beginning of rolling regional action in one area, on 27 June in the North-West of England. The indications are that this should be followed by further regional strikes in the Autumn – but with no national strike action being called until nearer Christmas.

As in March 2012, when Martin, as a NUT National Executive member for Inner London, went all-out to help build a regional strike called in the capital city alone, we will work hard to build action that is called. However, then and today, many teachers will have understandable doubts about this proposed plan of action. Yes, regional action spreads out the ‘pain’ of pay deductions but, as London teachers questioned a year ago, will such a slowly unfolding regional action have sufficient impact?

Teachers are practical people. They will be prepared to put up with pay deductions if unions can show that this temporary loss is likely to achieve a victory that means that the long-term pay losses from the permanent imposition of Gove’s pay and pension robbery plans can be avoided. But the plans announced today are not yet up to the job. Both NUT and NASUWT members need to tell their Unions to go back and strengthen the proposed plan of joint action.

Unions should call national strike action next term

If, despite bullying from Ofsted and budgetary pressures, we are going to successfully persuade schools not to apply Gove’s wishes, then the planned action needs to be stepped up. If, and this is the only real guarantee of success, we are going to mount sufficient pressure on Gove to withdraw this legislation before the new rules lead to teachers’ pay progression being blocked from September 2014, then, again, a far more vigorous plan of action is needed.
Both unions need to raise their sights and shake off their timidity. We should have confidence that, when the scale of these attacks are explained to teachers, they will respond to a firm call to take national strike action. 

The NUT and NASUWT are right to call on the Secretary of State to meet with unions to discuss our demands over pay, pensions and workload and to suspend any implementation of his divisive performance-pay proposals.  But what are unions bringing to the table that is going to make Gove think again? Instead of starting with regional action, teaching unions should be calling national strike action next term, perhaps escalating from a one-day strike up to 48-hour strike action. That’s a program that would show that unions were deadly serious about defeating these attacks.

Defeating Gove or just influencing the General Election?

The problem facing teachers is that some of their union leaders, in both the NASUWT and NUT, are not confident about making a bold call to action. Some Executive members seem to be looking at the timescales for action in a very different way to us. We fear that some have wrongly concluded that unions cannot defeat the Coalition, and so think our campaign should be restricted essentially to localised campaigns over pay policies. In this scenario, wider strike action isn’t then really aimed at defeating Gove but, over a longer timescale, at influencing the outcome of the next General Election.

Firstly, that approach will leave many of our members suffering pay and pension losses, and ever greater bullying and workload thanks to performance-pay, before any General Election is called. Secondly, it’s clear that, whatever the result of that Election, we can’t rely on any of the main political parties to adopt policies that oppose the pro-cuts, pro-privatisation agenda that demands the imposition of performance-related pay. It’s a strategy that just postpones launching a serious battle, demobilising and demoralising our members – and risks serious defeat. Instead, that serious national struggle needs to be waged – and soon, before we run into a quagmire of local disputes.

This Government is not as strong as it seems. Instead of just hoping for the best from a future Labour Government, unions should be co-ordinating action now, rebuilding the momentum that has been lost since the co-ordinated national strikes of 2011, including building for a 24-hour General Strike that could really start to shake this Government off its present disastrous course.

NUT and NASUWT Conferences must call for a strengthened program of action

Teachers in both the NUT and NASUWT will be asking questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the plans announced today. There will be relief that a concrete plan of joint action has now been announced. However, we think many will fear, as we do, that the potential advantages of united action across both unions could be wasted if the joint program of action that is agreed upon is too weak to adequately defend members of either union.

Today’s Press Conference announced that joint rallies are being planned for April and May in a number of cities. Classroom teachers of both unions – and parents and trade unionists that might also be attending - need to be calling for a more vigorous campaign of action to defend teachers and education. But, in reality, it will be hard to change these plans unless delegates at the two unions’ Annual Conferences meeting this Easter have already voted to improve the plan announced today.

Of course, delegates will be urged to back the agreed plan and, particularly at the NASUWT Conference, that call to back the leadership will be influential. However, NUT Conference delegates need to make sure that a plan of action is agreed that is up to the task of defeating these attacks. If the NASUWT feel unable to call national strike action earlier than, say, November, then that must not stop the NUT Conference from deciding on additional actions besides those jointly agreed. 

There are other unions also calling for co-ordinated action at an earlier date. For example, at the TUC’s pre-Budget rally last week, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka publicly called for unions to take co-ordinated national strike action jointly with the PCS on June 26. As a minimum, surely that is a request that the NUT should support - and call on the NASUWT to do the same?

After months when calls for ‘confidentiality’ about talks between the two unions have prevented full and open debate within the NUT about the action that needs to be taken, today’s announcement needs to be the start of an urgent discussion leading up to NUT Conference, not a plan that is just presented as one that delegates are expected to rubber-stamp over the Easter weekend.

The Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) will be seeking to aid that debate and bring together delegates who wish to propose a strengthening amendment to these plans. A fringe meeting on the Saturday evening of Conference in Liverpool (March 30) will be held to see if delegates can agree a common proposal to put to a Priority Motion expected to be tabled after this week’s meeting of the NUT National Executive.

Teachers should urgently discuss today’s announcements and let their NUT Conference delegates know what they think Conference needs to agree if we are to defeat Gove’s poisonous pay plans.

Martin Powell-Davies, NUT National Executive member for Inner London

Peter Glover, NUT National Executive member for Cheshire / Merseyside

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Austerity IS working - for the bondholders

Yesterday was not a day for Londoners to be sitting at home. Thousands marched against the cuts to Whittington Hospital, against fire station closures, against the bedroom tax and more besides. At the same time, around a hundred trade unionists met in the TUC's Congress House for the SERTUC Conference on 'Resisting Austerity in Europe and the UK'.

The Conference heard from speakers from UNITE, POA, NUT, FBU and UK UNCUT about 'how trade unions can fight austerity'. John Hancock from the POA called on trade unions to act on the motion successfully proposed by his union at the last TUC Congress to consider the 'practicalities of a general strike'. But, as John added, now they have been considered, that 24-hour general strike needs to be called! 

Matt Wrack of the FBU spoke after coming straight from the demonstration against station closures in Clapham. Max Hyde from the NUT explained the attacks on both teachers and education as a whole and alerted the Conference that announcements would be made soon about further action that the NUT will be taking to oppose them.

The meeting also successfully put the battle against cuts in Britain in the context of the European-wide attacks on our pay and pensions, and on our conditions and communities. Fernando Mauricio from the CGTP in Portugal, Maria Pentroulis from SYRIZA in London and Paul Murphy, Socialist Party MEP from Ireland, spoke about the attacks being made across the EU.

Paul Murphy's key message was to explain that austerity IS working - for the bankers and bondholders in their efforts to use the crisis to steal away the gains that the labour movement has made in the past. He called for a socialist solution to capitalist crisis and for trade unions to adopt both industrial and political strategies in opposing 'austerity'.

Quoting Jim Larkin, Paul pointed out that our movement has two arms - an industrial arm and a political arm - and we need to use both! His excellent speech - along with a brief solidarity greeting from Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA in Grece who was also in the building for other discussions, is on this video:

Coming in from the floor, Rob Williams from the NSSN pointed out that the best solidarity we can show to the workers of Greece is to build our own struggles, particularly in building a 24-hour General Strike to start to drive Britain's Coalition Government from office.

The second session of the Conference explained the economic context of the attacks with speakers including Owen Jones, Bill Greenshields from the 'People's Charter' and John McInally from the PCS. To applause, John explained why the PCS was starting national action on March 20th and called on unions to raise their sights and build co-ordinated strike action to defeat this Government's attacks.

Sarah Veale spoke about the impact of the cuts on women, black and other minority communities. Duncan Wheldon, TUC Senior Economist, pointed out that the graphs of economic 'recovery' for the UK first started to compare economic performance with the 90s, then the 80s - and now are having to be drawn in comparison with the 30's - but they still aren't showing 'recovery'! In fact the graphs now have to be drawn in 'landscape', not 'portrait' as the line just keeps crawling along showing continued stagnation of the economy.

That means, as I said in summing up the Conference from the Chair, that these attacks will inevitably continue - unless we act to stop them. The PCS are showing the way by taking national strike action on March 20th and beyond. Now other unions need to show the same determination to mount a serious battle against 'austerity' and its dire consequences for all our communities - in Britain and across Europe.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

600 march on Gove in London - now we need to strike

Police estimates - not union estimates - say that 600 of us marched through Westminster tonight in a protest against Michael Gove called by London Region of the NUT.

The rallying-point outside Westminster Cathedral gradually filled as teachers struggled in from all corners of London.

With many demonstrators wearing 'Gove-masks', we marched off to Gove's Department for Education buildings in Great Smith Street - just as the snow began to fall !

At the closing rally outside the DfE, teachers chanted in support of strike action. Everyone knew that the march had been a useful protest - but were waiting for news as to when national unions would be announcing the first date for a national strike.

A possible hint followed when, in the TUC pre-budget rally that followed around the corner in Marsham Street, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka called on all unions to join together in strike action on June 26th.  

Of course, the PCS aren't waiting to start action until then - they are taking national strike action on March 20th. The NUT needn't wait until June either. But united strike action, co-ordinated across the trade union movement, on Wednesday 26 June would be a big step towards rebuilding the momentum that has been lost since the co-ordinated national strikes of 2011 - and a big step forwards towards defending our pay, pensions, jobs and services against the attacks from Gove, Cameron and the rest of this rotten Government.

... and in Coventry, NUT members demonstrated too: