Saturday 10 April 2010

NUT Conference calls for united action against cuts

My platform in the NUT Executive election concentrated on two key issues – the need for a national ballot to combat excessive workload and united public sector action to defend jobs, pay and pensions from Government cuts. NUT Conference 2010 agreed important steps towards implementing both of these demands.

Conference debate opened with a discussion on workload. The key amendment, jointly drafted by Left NUT Associations, was carried unanimously. It confirmed the need for the Union to fight for a National Contract for teachers that sets clear limits to class sizes, teaching hours and the overall working week for teachers. Crucially, it also laid out an action campaign to win such a Contract.

In speaking for the amendment, I pointed out how the delay in implementing previous Conference decisions to call a national ballot over workload had left teachers without the protection they needed. Now we needed to prepare a programme of action that would draw teachers together across England and Wales. It should include both strike action and non-strike action, giving NUT members the power to refuse excessive workload together.

While it had not been possible to agree amongst the Left an exact timescale for such a ballot to start, the agreed policy made clear that preparation for the ballot should begin immediately. Unlike the delay following last year’s Conference decision to ballot on a boycott of SATs, the Union needed to organise from the start of this summer term in consulting and encouraging with members on what the action programme should include.

Unfortunately, as delegates have found for the previous two years, passing policy calling for a national ballot doesn’t mean it will be carried out. This year, the National Union had already produced postcards for members asking for their views on what should be ‘included in a National Contract’. But I’ll be pointing out on the Executive that the consultation agreed was about the action needed to win it!

As the policy agreed at Conference states, if a new Government fails to agree a satisfactory National Contract, then the national ballot must be held. A lively ‘Classroom Teacher’ fringe meeting held after the debate encouraged delegates to go back to schools and build for the ballot.

On Bank Holiday Monday, Conference debate centred on how the union can stand up to the cuts threatened by all the main parties. Delegates instructed the Executive to organise co-ordinated ballots for industrial action to defend our pensions before unanimously agreeing a priority motion from the Executive opposing cuts in services and public sector pay freezes. Further amendments confirmed our opposition to the BNP, condemned the use of the anti-trade union laws against UNITE and RMT and gave support to both the ‘Right to Work’ Conference on 22nd May and the NSSN Conference on 26th June.

Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary also addressed Conference, describing Gordon Brown’s government as the “worst” that trade unionists had ever known. He called on unions to act together as we had done in 2005 over pensions.

A further motion clearly putting the blame for the current economic crisis “on the chase for profit that lies at the heart of the global capitalist system” also called for nationalisation of firms which threatened major job cuts.

I proposed an amendment from Lewisham NUT that clearly spelt out the action that we now needed to prepare. I pointed out that it was not enough to congratulate our European colleagues for taking united strike action in countries like Portugal and Greece. We needed to make sure that an incoming Government knew that British trade unions were ready to do the same.

Conference supported our call for building locally and nationally across public sector unions, including calling a national demonstration to warn an incoming Government of our determination to defend jobs, pay, pensions and services. Above all, NUT Conference agreed that we should approach “other national trade unions to join with us in organising a co-ordinated ballot for a 24 hour public sector national strike as a swift response to any attempt by an incoming Government to impose a programme of public spending cuts”.

Conference debated many other issues, condemning OFSTED, the undermining of qualified supply teachers and the continued expansion of Academy, Trust and now “Free” Schools. Teachers spoke out against bullying, particularly against black and LGBT teachers. Delegates supported the campaign for “reading for pleasure”, applauding attacks from authors Alan Gibbons and Michael Rosen on the damage caused by SATs.

It is now the Executive’s responsibility to turn NUT Conference’s united support for action to defend teachers’ jobs and conditions into reality. I hope that I can ensure that, this year, policy is put into practice.

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