A national meeting of NUT Divisional Secretaries was called at the Union’s headquarters on June 26th to discuss the NUT’s pay and workload campaigns.
NUT General Secretary, Steve Sinnott, opened the discussion by stressing the importance of ‘unity’ inside the Union in taking on such serious campaigns. In doing so, he was clearly having a dig at those, like me, that are critical of the Union’s strategy.
Trade unionists have always understood that ‘Unity is Strength’ - but it will only be true if we unite around the program of action needed to defend our members and education. If we are not careful, ‘unity’ is going to be used as an excuse for inaction instead.
Steve Sinnott stressed the importance of getting the support of the NASUWT and ATL but a number of secretaries, including myself, stressed that we needed to look, first of all, to unions like PCS and CWU if we wanted to find leaderships that were prepared to take joint action alongside us.
I pointed out how the NUT had taken the lead by calling the first London Allowance strike in 2002. The pressure from below had then convinced the NASUWT to ballot alongside us for the second day’s strike later in that year. My own discussions with ATL and NASUWT Executive members had confirmed to me that it would take similar pressure to move them into action this time.
The NUT has to take a lead, not wait for the NASUWT. But Steve’s reply that we couldn’t look for “shortcuts” was a worrying indication that this is exactly what he wants to do. He insisted that he needed to maintain “flexibility” over the timetable for action. But if we wait for the other teacher union leaders, bound up in their ‘social partnership’ with the New Labour government, we could be waiting for a very long time – instead of seizing the time to take action.
“WHY DON’T WE JUST GET ON WITH IT?
”Jane Nellist from Coventry countered by pointing out that what the campaign urgently needed was a clear date for a ballot to begin after the summer break. She quoted from one of the contributions posted on the NUT website from a Lincolnshire teacher, asking simply, “why don’t we just get on with it?”
Dave Thomas from West Sussex rightly stated that the best way of the Union showing it was serious – as Steve insisted we were – was to name a date for the ballot.
I reported from the meetings I had attended in Lewisham and Greenwich and warned Steve that many of the teachers attending had seen the delays in announcing a ballot as the Union “dithering”. That provoked an agitated insistence that “nobody is dithering”. Well, if he’s right, let’s hope that when the Executive meets in July to “examine a ballot timescale”, the General Secretary will be recommending a date for a ballot in September!
Unfortunately, I fear NUT members will have to keep up the pressure right into the Autumn for the Union to finally put Conference policy for national action into effect. If my Vice-Presidential campaign can help to apply some of that pressure, it will have been more than worthwhile. If I can then keep up the pressure as President, all the better !
WORKLOAD – THE STRATEGY ISN’T WORKING
The final session of the day focussed on the Union’s workload campaign. When one secretary asked simply, “is the Union’s strategy working?” most in the room knew the honest answer – no, it wasn’t. Workload was still as bad a burden as ever yet only three schools had held action ballots under the new guidelines across the entire union!
It was left to Divisional Secretaries at the sharp end of handling members’ complaints to try and suggest some ways forward. Some suggested that action short of strike action, like refusing to hand in lesson plans to Heads, needed to be pursued alongside strike action. Others pointed to the need to take collective action across an authority, not relying on isolated school-by-school action. One suggested a national push on a few key issues.
As I argued at Conference, the Union certainly has to stop putting all the responsibility on individual school reps and local officers and start to give a national lead. I will continue to argue for the Union to follow the strategy pursued by the PCS and hold a single ballot for national action over all of the main grievances we have with Government – workload, pay, performance pay and the break-up of comprehensive local authority schooling.
Martin Powell-Davies 27 June 2007