Saturday, 22 March 2014

The NASUWT, March 26 and Professional Unity

For the last year and more, the NUT has been attempting to build strike action in conjunction with the NASUWT, and rightly so. However, the March 26 strike is having to go ahead without their participation and, regrettably, future national action may have to go ahead without them as well.

It is obvious that a co-ordinated strike between the two largest teaching unions will have a more powerful effect than one acting alone. It is also clearly in the interests of public sector workers, whatever their union, that we act in unison to defeat the attacks on colleagues, and the services we support, that are being inflicted by this Government. Indeed, that's why I continue to also argue for wider co-ordinated action with other TUC unions as well, not just the NASUWT.

However, I believe that events have, regrettably, confirmed the fears that myself and others in LANAC have been voicing from the start of the attempts to develop joint action. While the benefits of joint action have been clear, the dangers of allowing the NASUWT leadership to set the agenda for the NUT have also been very clear too.

There have always been reasons to doubt the attitude of some of the NASUWT leadership towards genuine partnership working. In 2011, they failed to take part in the June national pensions strike, only joining the next national action in November. 

At the September 2012 TUC, when most unions backed the call for Congress to investigate the 'practicalities of a general strike', the NASUWT were one of the few unions to speak against.

Even throughout our joint 'action-short-of-strike-action', the NASUWT often seemed to put obstacles in the way of genuine joint working in schools, particularly frowning on joint meetings between NUT and NASUWT members in schools.

A commitment to action before Feb 13
... disappears from the NASUWT website
Eventually, regional strikes with the NASUWT were agreed in 2013 but the promise of a further joint national strike in November was broken - as was the later commitment to joint action before February 13 2014.  Instead, and I suspect largely driven by the NASUWT, false claims were made that the prospect of 'genuine negotiations' had been won with Michael Gove. They hadn't. 

The talks that are taking place remain limited to discussions about the 'implementation' of Government policy. That's why the NUT are now correctly going on strike on March 26. (For the latest on the 'talks' and the rejection of "many of the most significant points put forward by the unions on implementation of policy" see )

The decision to call a strike without the NASUWT will inevitably strain the relationship between the tops of the two unions. However, at a school level, things are different. There, where all teachers are faced with the same pressures of performance-related pay, worsening pensions and intolerable workload, many NASUWT members are asking why their Union has backed away from national action. It is that common experience at school level which is the key to building genuine professional unity.

Instead of allowing any 'divide-and-rule', NUT and NASUWT members should try and meet jointly wherever possible to discuss the pressures they face and how to combat them, both through local and national action. Those joint meetings will rightly add to the pressure for joint action. However, if the NASUWT leadership continues to hold back from action, then the NUT will have no option but to proceed with further action next term without them. In those circumstances, notwithstanding long-standing loyalties to a particular union, even more teachers will start to reconsider which union best represents their interests.

Sadly, the immediate response of the NASUWT to the NUT's announcement of a national strike was to announce a 'free membership' offer, to which the NUT has responded in kind. So, far from building genuine unity, it seems that, for now, the long-standing battle for membership between the NASUWT and NUT will continue.

Classroom teachers can't afford the luxury of union leaders playing membership games ahead of the interests of the profession as a whole. That's why there will be continued demands for joint action and genuine 'professional unity' between teachers - as voiced at the recent 'Unity' Conference.

That Conference called for further events to be organised to continue to argue for a united union for teachers (or even for all school staff). However, it is clear that, as things stand, the NASUWT leadership will not support any such move. However, the interests of teachers as a whole are more important than the interests of union leaders. If that also means the NUT continuing to have to act independently of the NASUWT, then so be it.

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