Wednesday 15 July 2009

How can we support Local Association officers?

Before deciding on nominations, the Wrekin Division of the NUT wrote to VP candidates asking for views on how the NUT can support Divisional Secretaries. Their local secretary, Aly Langford, like local officers across the Union, is being overwhelmed by the huge level of casework and campaign demands. I am pasting my reply below - and also adding my thanks to The Wrekin for now deciding to nominate me for Vice-President.

As Aly’s letter so clearly reveals, the years of underfunding and target-driven bullying of schools and their staff are taking an increasing toll on teachers – and on the local officers who are left to try and defend NUT members but without sufficient time or resources to do so as well as we would like. It is precisely the need to change those pressures that drives me to stand in this VP election.
Even from the relative luxury of the Lewisham Division, where we have managed to hold on to the better facility agreements gained under the ILEA, we are constantly battling to keep our heads above the flood of casework - as well as making time to prioritise vital campaigning work as well. As in the Wrekin and in Divisions across the Union, NUT Secretaries are spending hours, in and out of allocated facility time, trying to meet the rise in cases - capabilities, disciplinaries, grievances …
If elected National Officer, I can assure you that I would use my ongoing experience from over 15 years as Lewisham NUT Secretary to argue that the Union has to defend its key resource – the local officers. We cannot simply pile more tasks on local Divisions, a change of strategy is needed.
We must change the way we organise and support Local Associations and Divisions, for example:
• Increase Regional Office staffing to provide more frequent and more reliable support for Divisional Secretaries and other local casework officers.
• More opportunities for local secretaries to meet colleagues in neighbouring divisions to overcome isolation and share and discuss casework demands and successful strategies.
• To try to turn individual casework into collective union disputes wherever possible.
• Overhaul ‘Hearth’ so it can better provide the key information needed by local officers.
• Campaign for improved facility agreements – but this will require a national campaign.
We must change the emphasis on local action and bring Divisions together with national action.
Changes like those above can help provide more support for associations and divisions. However, as cuts, privatisation and new methods of bullying staff like the White Paper’s threatened ‘licence’ scheme continue to worsen conditions, we will be facing even more casework and campaigns. We will not be able to respond successfully unless we organise collectively to oppose the root causes of the problems we face – underfunding, targets, workload and the lack of a decent National Contract that sets real limits on our working hours – and guarantees improved facility time as well.
For too long, the Union has looked to isolated local action to try and solve issues. While local action can win results, it takes a great deal of confidence, even in a well-organised school. Above all, the root causes of the pressures we face cannot be addressed school-by-school or Division-by-Division.
That’s why I have argued successfully at the last two NUT Annual Conferences for the Union to tackle workload through national action. I believe that we have to prepare a clear claim to win the National Contract that we have long called for as a Union, and prepare a program of national action to win it. Yes, we would have to go out and win support for that action, just as we are doing over SATs, but I believe that members would respond, as they did over pay on April 24th last year.
We cannot continue as we are now, allowing the energy and spirits of the best local officers to be exhausted through endless casework. A determined national campaign would lift the confidence of teachers to stand up for themselves, in turn helping with the individual battles and cases we constantly face. It is to help build that campaign that I seek your nomination as Vice-President.

Martin Powell-Davies,
Secretary, Lewisham NUT.

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