Sunday 28 November 2010

Support builds for co-ordinated strike action

All of the meetings that I have spoken at over the last few days have given enthusiastic support for the NUT linking up with other unions and taking co-ordinated national strike action next term. Now is the time to make sure that action takes place.

On Wednesday (while students and trade unionists - including Billy Hayes of the CWU were still trapped in the Whitehall 'kettle') I took the tube to Hammersmith to speak at a substantial meeting called by their Trades Council to set up their borough anti-cuts campaign. I pointed out that the local campaign to oppose Kenmont Primary School becoming an Academy was just one example of how we can link communities and trade unions together to defend our public services. But, to really make this Government think again, we urgently needed to put TUC policy of co-ordinating industrial action into practice.

On Thursday, I had the chance to contribute at a meeting of over 500 at Goldsmiths University. UCU delegates returning from their Higher Education Conference were able to report on two key decisions:
a) That the UCU should approach the NUS and all the public sector unions to seek a joint mobilisation on the day that Parliament debates tuition fees (a date in December yet to be finalised).
b) That the UCU should ballot for national strike action at the end of January over the threats to lecturers' pay and pensions.

NUT members should participate where they can in the UCU December protests - just like many NUT Associations did on November 10. But, to the enthusiastic support from the meeting, I pointed out that a joint NUT/UCU ballot in January/February could lead to a mass shutdown of schools and colleges so that teachers, lecturers, students, school students and their parents would be able to march together in a massive show of strength against the attacks on our pay and pensions - and on education as a whole.

The same message was well received on Friday evening when I spoke at meetings inside the student occupation of SOAS in Central London and of the Day-Mer youth group in Tottenham. Mark Serwotka's call for joint NUT/UCU and PCS action at Saturday's Coalition of Resistance Conference went down even better!

As Mark pointed out, it was time that trade union leaders stopped giving excuses as to why action could NOT be organised and started to find ways that we COULD organise co-ordinated action. Repeating again his call for 'not a single job to be lost, not a single penny cut from pay', Mark made clear the responsibility on trade unions to organise the mass action that has the power to defeat the Con-Dem Government's attacks.

The students have inspired an older generation to fight. Now they are looking to trade unions to take the action that we have promised we will organise. It is hard enough to explain to angry students why the anti-union laws mean that a careful ballot and clearly identified dispute must be in place before strike action is called. However, there is no reason to delay any longer than the limits placed on us by the legal requirements.

Of course, above all, we have to have support of our own members. However, teachers themselves are also being affected by the growing mood of anger - and the attack on pensions, paying more for less and retiring older, is something teachers are certainly angry about. Motions passed by Lewisham NUT - and most recently Bolton NUT - confirm that support for action.

The NUT Executive meeting in December must not hesitate. Our November decision to ballot over pensions has helped show a way forward. The UCU and PCS are ready to co-ordinate with us. Now we must agree a firm timetable for ballots and co-ordinated action.

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