On Saturday June 6th, a packed meeting of the LANAC Steering Committee held in London brought together teachers from 25 different NUT Associations.
This was the first chance for LANAC supporters to meet nationally after both Easter's NUT Annual Conference and the May election of a majority Tory Government. The wide turnout, with teachers travelling from areas as far apart as Plymouth, East Riding, Wirral and Thanet, showed just how many Local Associations see LANAC as a forum where they can meet to constructively share ideas and openly debate the way forward.
Opening the discussion, LANAC Convenor Martin Powell-Davies pointed to the successful 'Stop Academies in Lewisham' campaign as an example of how public support can be won for union policies and in opposition to the Tories' plans for further cuts and privatisation. However, unless the trade union movement uses its strength to oppose them, the Tories will try to impose their attacks.
Sasha, a Lewisham school student explained how students, parents and staff had worked together in a united campaign that has so far successfully beaten back the threat of academy conversion. LANAC agreed to circulate materials explaining the lessons of the campaign and practical steps that other areas could also adopt too. Above all, it could help to set the tone that, if we fight, we can win.
April's NUT Annual Conference had seen some sharp differences over proposals tabled by LANAC over the strategy needed to win. Only narrowly, by 52% to 48%, had delegates voted down LANAC's analysis that, while the Union had scored some successes, "our campaign has failed to sufficiently protect teachers and education". In the face of worsening conditions and soaring resignations, the successful Executive amendment's claim that "our campaigning has forced the issue of workload to the top of the education agenda" would sound unconvincing to many hard-pressed classroom teachers.
Questions were also raised about how successful the 'Stand Up For Education' campaign had been in practice. It had helped emphasise the need for an outward-looking campaigning Union but could not, on its own, force pro-austerity politicians to change their policies. Industrial action has to play a central role in the Union's strategy.
The meeting agreed that LANAC's general approach was still correct - that the Union must set clear demands, and campaign, prepare and convince teachers to take the action needed to win them. Of course, the Government also understand that a campaign of national strike action, especially one co-ordinated across different unions, could seriously threaten their austerity plans. That's why they were looking to impose turnout thresholds that would make it much harder to win national ballots. The law could also be changed to allow schools to employ supply teachers to cover for striking staff.
We agreed that LANAC would circulate a model motion calling for a national demonstration to oppose these new threats, linking to the need for teachers to take national action to oppose cuts and defend our pay and conditions.
While national action is key to defeating a national attack on education, local action, co-ordinated across schools as widely as possible, is also necessary. Mike Whale from Hull NUT explained how a meeting they had set up between classroom teachers and an Ofsted Director had helped bring home to Ofsted how 'accountability' fears were driving schools into imposing unsustainable teacher workload. Local Associations should turn teacher turnover and shortages to our advantage to build support for local action and to help expose the damaging effects of Government policy.
A lunchtime workshop on 'seizing back our lives' discussed a range of practical steps for building workload action in schools. We should use the fact that Heads were breaking their legal duty to 'have proper regard for [staff] well-being .. and the expectation of a healthy balance between work and other commitments" as a way to encourage colleagues to demand schools change policies to reduce the demands on staff. As well as limiting overall working hours, winning manageable marking policies and limiting expectations over sending and reading emails particularly featured in the discussion.
In the alternative workshop on 'speaking up for your members' colleagues shared advice on how best to make your point when speaking to school management - and in union meetings as well. Both workshops agreed that LANAC would develop a website or forum to develop these discussions further and to share campaigning resources. This could include a LANAC 'guide for reps' with practical suggestions on how to strengthen workplace organisation.
A final session on building LANAC and the Left in the NUT agreed that, while LANAC was primarily a campaigning and organising body, we also needed to continue to make a stand in union elections to publicise and build support for our strategies. The meeting agreed, with just one vote against, that LANAC would support Bridget Chapman and Jane Nellist in their stand in this Autumn's election for NUT National Vice-President.
We also agreed that we must defend and, hopefully, build on the success that LANAC supporters had achieved in the 2014 elections for the NUT National Executive. We should again aim to challenge existing Executive members who back 'Broadly Speaking' (on the 'right' of the Union). It was also agreed that LANAC representatives will discuss further with others on the 'Left Caucus' on the Executive to continue the discussions which had begun about what defines the 'Left' in the Union.
Above all, teachers left the meeting enthused that, whatever Cameron and Morgan might be ready to throw at us, we should build with confidence that we can - and must - oppose the attacks that they are planning to make on teachers, trade unions and the communities that we live and work in.