Sunday 30 September 2012

Call on unions to set dates for national strike action

Action ‘short of strike action’ is already achieving successes and boosting members’ confidence. But this now needs to be used to build strike action.

Where schools are imposing unacceptable appraisal & observation policies, the joint instructions rightly advise teachers to refuse to participate in the process. That could include telling observers that NUT and NASUWT members will be ceasing teaching and putting on a DVD or reading books if an observer arrives in their class!

However, if this doesn’t persuade the school to think again - and/or if Heads start to ratchet up divisions by threatening any pay deductions - then school groups must urgently request support for calling strike action.

Unions shouldn’t leave schools to consider strike action in isolation. NUT Associations like Lewisham, St.Helens and Coventry are already discussing building strikes co-ordinated across different schools - and these local strikes could be co-ordinated nationally to make sure that we really put the pressure on Gove to put back the previous statutory limits on classroom observations.

Indeed, if unions are going to win our dispute with Gove and the Government, then national strike action will have to be called - and it’s time to start setting those dates.

The NUT’s letter setting out its national dispute with the Secretary of State calls, amongst other things, for the end to the pay freeze, a national limit on classroom observations and national contracts that fix a maximum weekly limit to our overall hours of work. Those are the demands that can make sure all teachers, in all schools, are protected - and, as we must explain to parents, guarantee better learning conditions for our pupils too.

As well as improving pay and conditions, we also can’t forget our ongoing dispute to defend teachers’ pensions. We can’t afford to let this Government increase pension ages to 68 or more. Nor can teachers afford to see their pay cut again in 2013 - and then in 2014 - through the next hikes in pension contributions planned by Osborne.

We won’t defend pensions - nor win nationwide changes to pay and conditions - through local action alone - co-ordinated national strike action is vital.

Throughout 2012, Socialist Party Teachers, Classroom Teacher - and others  - have been arguing for further national strike action to be called. At Easter's Annual Conference delegates set up the Local Associations Network as a response to this failure to call such action. However, a majority on the NUT National Executive decided it was best to hold back and wait for joint action with NASUWT. However, for now, there is little sign of the NASUWT leadership being prepared to agree dates for national strikes. How long can the NUT allow the NASUWT to hold back action, particularly when other unions - and the TUC as a whole - has voted to support joint action in defence of pay, jobs and pensions this autumn? This followed a lively march in Brighton to lobby delegates, organised by the National Shop Stewards Network.

NUT Associations like Islington and Lewisham voted at their September meetings to call on the Executive to urgently talk to other unions about setting strike dates. East London NUT has circulated a petition for teachers to sign supporting the call for national action this term. 

So, as well as meeting regularly to review and build the ‘action short of strike action’, school groups and local associations - of both the NUT and NASUWT - should be sending in motions and letters calling on their unions to urgently agree national strike dates. 

Masses of trade unionists will march in London on October 20th to protest against austerity and cuts. Teachers must be there in huge numbers too - but let’s call on all present to follow up with joint action.

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