Saturday 23 April 2011

NUT Conference votes for national strike action to defend pensions

“We would have got away with it, if it hadn’t had been for those meddling unions”.

I wasn’t quite sure why Scooby-Doo came to me as I came to the end of my contribution to today’s debate, but it seemed to fit the moment! Because the Con-Dems and their big business backers may have thought that they WERE going to get away with their vicious cuts -  but now they know that they are facing a force that can stop their attacks – the power of the organised trade union movement.

It was a privilege to have the chance to make the last speech at the end of the historic session of NUT Conference that agreed to proceed to a ballot for discontinuous strike action, likely to start with a one-day strike co-ordinated with the UCU,PCS and ATL on June 30. The decision of the NASUWT Conference will be made tomorrow – with rank-and-file delegates trying to organise to prevent their leadership succeding in persuading their Conference to hold back from action - instead of joining with us.

Of course, first the strike ballots have to be won. That’s why every delegate will be leaving Conference with a determination to get our message across to every school that we’re not going to accept having to pay more to retire later with less pension.

The motion was agreed with just two abstentions from New Labour supporting delegates who had sought to oppose a proposal calling on the TUC to organise a ‘one day public sector general strike’. Their speeches failed to gather support from all but a few delegates because most understood that unprecedented attacks require unprecedented actions – and co-ordinated national strike action is exactly what is needed to make the Con-Dems think again.

There are still plenty of debates to be had about the best action strategy to win the dispute. Conference closed debate before reaching an amendment - which I was to move - proposing that the NUT discuss with other unions about the possibility of further national strike action in July – and certainly more in the Autumn Term – and also to invite trade unionists and service users to build mass regional demonstrations on the first strike day. However, I hope that those mass rallies will still be organised on June 30th.

Another amendment from Oldham calling for rolling regional strikes was also not debated. While I have doubts about such an approach – as it could dissipate members’ energies rather than building pressure on the Government – it would have been good to have debated the advantages and disadvantages of such a strategy as well. However, in building for the ballot, teachers are also going to rightly want to have exactly those debates about what comes next after June 30 – and how best to escalate action to force the Government to retreat.

The Con-Dems saw the potential strength of the movement they face in the massive turnout on March 26. They’re already under pressure over the NHS cuts. Over pensions, they can be defeated if unions build a determined movement. We are facing real-life wreckers – not cartoon baddies – but, together, we CAN defeat their plots to make us pay for the bankers’ gambling debts.

As I concluded today – ‘we’re organising, the Government are wobbling, and we’re going to win!’

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