Friday 13 January 2012

NO DEAL - Report from the NUT Executive

NUT seeks urgent talks with other unions to press for further strikes

Dispute at critical stage: let the Executive know you support action

The NUT Executive met for an emergency meeting on January 12 to debate how we respond to the Government’s attempts to bully unions into accepting their ‘Heads of Agreement’ pensions proposals.

We met straight after a TUC meeting of all the main public sector unions where there were reportedly some sharp exchanges between unions still standing firm - like PCS and NUT – and those that had signed a deal that can only mean that their members pay more, retire older and get less.

The discussion needs to be sharp – because the decision of unions like Unison and GMB to sign up to the ‘Heads of Agreement’ doesn’t only threaten support staff and other members of the Local Government Pension Scheme – it threatens the pensions of every one of the two million workers that took such tremendous united action on November 30.

Their retreat means our pensions dispute is now at a critical stage – but the fight is far from finished. Those unions that were bullied into signing – like the ATL - still have to sell their mistaken decision to their members. In schools, the NUT and NASUWT haven’t signed up to the deal, nor have the UCAC, EIS and INTO unions in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. UNITE has strengthened its position since the New Year , rejecting the deal in Health and Local Government. Their private-sector Unliever members will also be taking strike action to defend their pensions in January. Firefighters in the FBU may also join us in action.

Once the facts are known, how can any union accept the ‘heads of agreement’ proposed by the Government? The NUT Executive confirmed unanimously that we cannot agree to a deal that means:
  • Normal pension age in the scheme will rise to 68 and even higher.
  • Teachers who leave before that age – driven out by excessive workload and the threatened ‘bullies charter’ - will face substantial reductions in their pension entitlements
  • Contributions will increase by 50%
  • The change to CPI will remove a further 15% of scheme value
  • The introduction of career averaging will lead to further cuts in pension value for a big majority of teachers.
Our action had already forced the Government to concede that at least some older teachers can still retire at 60 - although they’ll still be paying in more and getting less in retirement. But all teachers would be hit hard, especially the youngest. If we’re going to reject this unacceptable deal, then we have to carry on our campaign of action to force much more out of this Government.

The Executive agreed that we seek urgent talks with other unions that have not signed up to the heads of agreement to press the case for further action. Mark Serwotka had already told the TUC that morning that the PCS were planning to convene exactly such a joint meeting in the next few days. 

The next two weeks will be critical in constructing a clear action plan. Following those joint talks, the NUT Executive will meet again on January 26 to decide if – and when - we are going to set definite dates for further strike action. 

It’s not a straightforward decision - and it was clear in the debate that doubts, about how many unions will join us and about the resolve of NUT members in schools, were weighing heavily on some Executive members. That’s why in the surveys, school and Association meetings over the next fortnight, it’s vital that NUT members send in motions, letters and emails saying that you support the call for further strike action in defence of our pensions.

In seconding an amendment seeking to strengthen the main motion, I argued that we had to be confident that, once the facts about the deal were spelt out, teachers would understand why we had to reject the deal – and, if so, that we had to continue, and escalate, our action. 

The amendment suggested that NUT took a clear proposal to the joint union action talks to consider a one-day strike before the end of February - and further co-ordinated action in March – before the imposed pension contributions start to further cut teachers’ pay in April. 

I believe that amendment would have helped answer any doubts amongst our members about the Executive’s determination to defend pensions – and sent a firmer message to the Government, and to other unions, that the NUT was ready for a serious fight. 

The amendment was lost by 26 votes to 13 but, significantly, was supported by  Executive members who reported that they were responding to calls from members in their area for the NUT to quickly call further action, including two who wouldn't normally vote with the Executive 'Left'.

Most on the Executive did not want to support a definite timetable at this stage – but we all agreed that the debate will continue on January 26. It’s now vital that NUT members continue to pass on their support for action to give their Executive members the confidence to call the action that must now be taken if we are to defend pensions.

NUT Executive news in brief:
Gove’s ‘Bullies Charter’ - These plans are about bullying and intimidating teachers so that we are too frightened to stand up for ourselves - and for education. The NUT Executive confirmed our opposition to Gove’s plans and to seek to organise action to stop them.
Stop Forced Academies - the campaign to stop one of Gove’s other attacks - bullying schools into becoming Academies - is being fought hard in  Haringey.  Join the demonstration on Saturday 28 January, 12pm at Downhills Primary School, N15.
Sixth Form Colleges ballot - strike ballots to oppose funding cuts and worsening pay and conditions in the sector will be going out to all 6FC members. Votes must be returned by 30 January.

London Assembly Elections: A personal appeal to support trade union candidates
We’re fighting a vicious Government trying to drive through cuts. Yet, with a few honourable exceptions, most opposition politicians aren’t prepared to speak up for trade unionists. That’s why the RMT, FBU and others are planning to stand candidates in the ‘list’ for the Assembly. I have been invited to stand as a prominent NUT member. 

To give support, visit:

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