Wednesday 8 July 2009

Union must listen to members when deciding action policy

While the Executive has yet to implement Conference policy calling for national action, union groups have been encouraged to take school-based action. Yet reps from two school NUT groups are expressing their concern at the decisions taken by National Action Officers over the action proposed for their schools. An opportunity for the Union to show that it is taking a firm lead in defending members is in danger of being replaced by confusion and even bitterness.

Members at Prestwich Arts College in Bury were disappointed that the one-day strike action which they were going to take on July 7th - against the threat of increased timetable loadings (a threat faced by school groups around the country as a consequence of not funding the 'rarely cover' provisions) - was reduced to just a one-hour strike, without consultation with members at the school. They are calling for one-day action to be reinstated to take place next week.

Members at St.Pauls Way school in Tower Hamlets have been angered by the postponement of strike action proposed to oppose compulsory redundancies. In this case, the proposal to call off the action was put to the members at a school meeting where 40 attended. However, the rep reports that the meeting voted unanimously for the strike action to go ahead. They understandably feel let down that the national Union has, as yet, not changed its position.

I have today spoken to both my Inner London National Executive members to pass on these concerns. Both Kevin Courtney and Alex Kenny agreed that the Union needed to reconsider its position in these two disputes. I hope that this will be the case.

As in any dispute, there are bound to be differences over strategy. In both these disputes, I understand that key National Officers felt that their decisions correctly reflected some concessions made by the employers. However, it is clear that this is not the view of the members in the schools concerned.

If the Union is to successfully build the confidence to take action, then we must listen to the views of members directly involved in the dispute and consult fully with school groups in developing the correct strategy at each stage. Where members are prepared to take action, then there would have to be very good reason not to back them in taking it. Where there are differences, then every effort has to be made to debate, discuss and come to a common agreement on the right way forward. Imposing a strategy from above will only demoralise and divide.

In both these cases, members are prepared to act. We should grab opportunities to show the strength of the union by taking such action, raising confidence to fight in these Associations and beyond.


Jason said...

I agree that these decisions must be overturned. More than that I think it was amistake for Alex to argue for calling off of the action in Tower Hamlets. But the point remains about respecting union democracy.

I also think that we need to ahve this debate out in the associations and on the campaign teacher e-list and other meetings.

This are vital fights in both Bury and Tower Hamlets against workforce remodelling, privatisation, stratification of state education and union busting.

Roy Wilkes said...

Thanks for posting this Martin.

In the case of Prestwich Arts College I don't think even the National Action Committee was consulted. The decision to reduce to a one hour strike was taken solely by the Div Sec and the Regional Officer at the negotiating meeting and then members were informed of that decision as a fait accompli.

Martin is absolutely right. The members directly involved in the dispute are actually in a much better position to see through the shenanigans and tactics of the employers when they make these so called 'offers.' We know our own school intimately and we know when we are being sold a dummy by the bosses. The effect of reducing the action was to demoralize members and to put a brake on the momentum of our struggle, and we now have to redouble our efforts to regain that momentum. It also damages the union, because members lose faith in it and non-members are now more reluctant to join us.

Of course, no one who was involved in the negotiations on Friday will be directly affected by their outcome, it is in some ways an academic exercise for them. For us it is not an abstract issue, but something that will impact massively on our workload, stress levels and work-life balance.

NUT Rep, Prestwich Arts College