Tuesday 29 October 2013


Please pass on this message to NUT members:

As national strike action is postponed again, now, more than ever, NUT members need to vote for clear, consistent leadership.

So, look out for your ballot paper at your home address from October 30 and VOTE 1 FOR MARTIN POWELL-DAVIES IN THE NUT VICE-PRESIDENT ELECTION

Martin Powell-Davies was right to warn about further hesitation being an encouragement to Michael Gove:

In his election leaflets, Martin pointed out that "perhaps Gove has singled me out because I have consistently campaigned for unions to put in place the calendar of national action needed to stop him. I called for continued action on pensions in 2012. Instead, union hesitation encouraged Gove to attack pay. Further hesitation would invite further attacks. Gove needs to know that we aren’t stepping back. We have a responsibility to teachers, and to the children we teach, to make sure that Gove retreats".

When the NUT Executive met last week, teachers were expecting a date for national strike action in November to be confirmed. Now, no national strike will take place this term.

The official reason being given to NUT members for this decision is that Michael Gove has agreed to 'genuine dialogue'. Even if that were true, it would have been far better to have announced a firm date for strike action, so that Gove knew what to expect once it became clear that he wasn’t offering serious negotiations.

However, the truth is that the Secretary of State has already made his position about talks very clear. His letters to the unions insist that the “direction of travel” on raising pensions ages to 68 and imposing performance-related pay is “fixed". He only wants to talk “about the implementation of these changes”.

Regrettably, the real reason that action was called off this term is because the NASUWT Executive wanted a postponement and a majority on the NUT Executive would not support striking without them. Of course joint action with the NASUWT would have had a greater effect but we’re in danger of having no serious campaign of action at all from either union.

Michael Gove's failing education policies - whether it be free schools, the lack of pupil places, or performance-pay - are increasingly exposed. Yet every time we hesitate, we give him more confidence to carry on his damaging attacks. It's time that we stopped hesitating and made sure that Gove is the one that has to step back, not teaching unions.

The fact that we're no longer going to be able to "strike together in November" is a setback for our campaign but now Martin's strategy to defeat Gove's attacks is even more important:

• Hesitation will only help Gove. Let's get every school out on a united one-day national strike
• Call on other unions - like fire-fighters, postal workers, civil servants - to strike alongside us
• Build united NUT/NASUWT school committees to keep up the pressure for joint action
• Sharpen-up our communications - make sure that every colleague, every parent, understands why teachers are taking action to defend education
• Campaign in our communities to broaden the support for our fight against Gove’s attacks
• Collect for hardship funds so that no colleague feels unable to join our strike action
• Continue our action next term; if Gove won't step back, then we should step up to a two-day strike

IF you want to make sure that we take the action necessary to defeat Gove's attacks, 

IF you want to elect a Vice-President who can be relied on to stand firm for teachers and education,


Science teacher * Secretary of Lewisham NUT * Member of the NUT National Executive * Convenor, Local Associations for National Action Campaign

READ MORE ON MARTIN’S BLOG: www.electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk

Monday 28 October 2013

Why no national action in November?

After three well-supported joint regional strikes by the NASUWT and NUT unions, teachers were expecting the NUT Executive to confirm the promised date for national strike action in November. Instead, a joint press release has been issued calling off any action before Christmas. Teachers will be asked to lobby their MPs at the end of November instead.

The official reason for this decision is that Michael Gove has confirmed that he is “willing to discuss a basis for genuine talks on the unions’ trade disputes”. However, even if that were true, it would have been far better to have announced a firm date for strike action, so Gove knew what to expect once it became clear that he wasn’t offering serious negotiations.

Our well-supported regional strikes were starting to put Gove onto the back foot. His failed educational policies, not least free schools, are increasingly exposed. Yet the unions’ unexpected announcement will have given Gove renewed confidence to maintain his attacks on teachers and education. It makes it even more likely that he will press ahead with some or all of his threatened attacks on teachers’ working conditions in the New Year.

But Gove has already made his position on talks very clear. He wrote to both unions back in March saying that he was happy to talk as long as unions accepted that the “direction of travel” on raising pensions ages to 68 and imposing performance-related pay was “fixed”. Gove wrote again in the same vein in September, before the main round of regional strikes, making clear that he was only offering talks “about the implementation of these changes”.

This is the reality. Yet NUT members are being told that the action has been called off because, thanks to the regional action, Gove has “offered talks”. No doubt it’s a story that will have encouraged some teachers. However, that relief could easily turn to anger once the truth emerges.

Many union reps will already be angry. After the retreat in 2012, when no further regions were called into action after the London NUT regional strike over pensions, it seemed that momentum was building again. Now they are going to have to explain another setback to their members.

The only way to successfully build further action is to be honest about the real reason that the action was called off. It wasn’t because Gove was having a change of heart – the threat of a serious program of ongoing strike action will be needed to achieve that. It was because, for whatever reason, the NASUWT Executive had withdrawn from their commitment to strike action this term and the majority on the NUT Executive felt they could not call action without them.

In response, NUT and NASUWT members need to meet jointly in every school and demand that escalating national strike action is put back in place in the New Year and that no unacceptable deals are struck on the basis of Gove’s ‘fixed’ policies on pay and pensions.

That’s also why a minority of ten members of the NUT National Executive supported my objection to the Officers’ Recommendations calling for the NUT to proceed with strike action on November 27. Of course joint action with the NASUWT would have had a greater effect but we’re in danger of having no serious campaign of action at all from either union.

This setback has the potential be a lot more serious than just a few months delay in calling national action. It sends a signal to both Gove and union members that perhaps their unions are not serious about winning this dispute. If we are, we should have been making plans to escalate our action after Christmas, perhaps to a two-day strike. Instead, teachers are offered only the possibility of a one-day national strike around the beginning of February followed by further regional strikes.

That’s not a serious escalation and, if we’re not careful, teachers will start to question whether it’s worth losing pay to support such drawn-out action. The bitter reality facing classroom teachers means that they are willing to sacrifice a great deal to defeat Gove’s attacks – but only if they think their leaders are leading a serious battle.

NUT members at least have an immediate opportunity to show their anger at the postponement of action and to vote for new leadership when they receive their ballot papers this week to elect two new NUT National Vice-Presidents.

As my election statement says “I called for continued action on pensions in 2012. Instead, union hesitation encouraged Gove to attack our pay. We have taken regional action in 2013. Now a calendar of national strikes must follow. Further hesitation would invite further attacks. Gove needs to know we are standing firm”.

I would ask everyone who agrees with that statement to call on NUT members across England and Wales to VOTE POWELL-DAVIES 1

Saturday 26 October 2013

National action postponed - an honest appraisal of yesterday’s setback

The strategy as it had been declared on the National NUT website
I have waited until today to post my report on yesterday’s debates at the NUT National Executive to keep a commitment that I made to the NUT DGS to allow the NUT and NASUWT to issue their official press release first.

Regrettably, I now find that, instead of just reporting on a genuine disagreement over tactics, the mistaken vote of the majority on the NUT Executive has been compounded by a less than genuine spinning of the reasons why both unions are now withdrawing their commitment to national strike action before Christmas.

Of course, in any dispute, trade unions want to put across as positive message as they can but they also need to be honest with their members about decisions that have been taken. If not, then lack of trust and cynicism can all too quickly eat into morale and confidence.

Regrettably, I think it is far from clear that Michael Gove has agreed to “establish a basis for genuine dialogue”. As press coverage as long ago as March made clear (e.g. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/michael-gove-says-he-is-very-happy-to-meet-teaching-unions-8553720.html) Michael Gove has always maintained the pretence that he is prepared to talk to unions – but only to talk to us about the implementation of his fixed plans, not to properly negotiate. Gove wrote a very similar letter again to the unions on September 17, again making clear that he would be happy to talk “within the parameters” that “the Government’s policy direction on pay and pensions is fixed”. Is this a basis for genuine dialogue?

Even if Gove had made a more genuine offer of talks, it would still have been better to announce the date of our next strike action in order to maintain pressure during those negotiations.

At yesterday's NUT Executive, as in any genuine debate, not everyone reached the same conclusions. I respect the fact that not everyone will agree with what I argued either. However, rather than "spinning a story", I am giving my honest explanation of yesterday’s decision, and why ten of us voted to oppose it, in this post today.  

A serious strategy to defeat Gove’s attacks 

Yesterday’s decisions and debates can only be explained by making clear that, for whatever reason, the NASUWT had made clear that they were going to renege on their commitment to national action in November. That, of course left the NUT Executive facing a difficult choice. 

The advantages in taking action alongside the NASUWT are obvious. That’s why I had made clear in advance that, even if action were postponed to a definite date in January that, while this delay would still be hard to justify to members, there would be no alternative but for the NUT to postpone as well.

However, I cannot agree, as was argued by one member of the Executive yesterday that “unity with the NASUWT takes precedence over all other considerations”. As a physics teacher, I know that two forces should give you more strength than one. However, if the forces aren’t pulling in the same direction, then the resultant can be even less than one force acting alone. 

A judgement about the advantages and disadvantages of following a common strategy has to be made at each stage. There are times, and yesterday was one, when we have to challenge the NASUWT’s mistaken tactics. Otherwise we risk leading both unions, and teachers as a whole, to a defeat that would leave members facing unbearable pressures that will force many out of the profession.

Of even greater importance is to make clear to members, and to the Secretary of State, that their unions are confident in their strength and serious about defending teachers and education. We had every reason to be confident after the October strikes. Gove's educational policies are becoming increasingly criticised. Regrettably, we have now sent entirely the wrong signals to Michael Gove and given him renewed confidence to maintain his attacks.

As I stated in moving the objection to the Officers’ recommendations that were presented to the Executive yesterday, I do not believe that they set out a sufficiently serious strategy to present to either our members - or to make Michael Gove think that he needs to start rethinking his plans.

Yes, there is now a promise that “in the absence of sufficient progress, a national strike in England and Wales will be held not later than 13 February 2014”. However, there is no definite date set. Indeed, to try and get at least some clarity, a further amendment was agreed asking the “NUT/NASUWT negotiating teams to identify some possible dates when the action might take place ... and to bring these dates to the December Executive meeting”. 

Let's be clear that this means that further action is now postponed until late January or early February. That’s when we should have been looking to escalate to deeper action , perhaps a two-day strike, not another isolated national strike, seemingly  as part of a drawn-out campaign up to the next General Election. In addition, all that was agreed as a plan for further action beyond that was "rolling regional action", our proposal to also add "escalating" and national action" being defeated.

The week planned for the November national strike will now, in the words of a message from the NUT GS and DGS be used to lobby MPs “including a meeting at the House of Commons, to urge MPs to put pressure on the Government to resolve the dispute”! As we pointed out yesterday, the only real way to make sure that members can turn out to a Lobby of Parliament in big numbers is to call a strike! 

The best way to influence politicians is to maintain the programme of escalating action agreed by NUT Conference and to go out and explain our case to parents and everyone in our local communities.

The NUT GS and DGS have also said that “additionally the NUT and NASUWT will work together to increase the number of schools taking sustained strike action where their pay or appraisal policies do not meet our checklists as a further route to pressurise the Secretary of State”. That’s a welcome move and a strategy that I and school reps in Lewisham NUT are already starting to put into practice. However, we all recognise that even the best school pay policy will only offer limited protection. The only real guarantee of protecting members' pay-progression is to take national action to reverse Gove’s performance-pay legislation. That’s what my reps are calling for. 

The objection proposed at the Executive 

For the reasons discussed above, this is why I tabled the following proposal as an amendment to the Officers’ recommendations, seconded by Patrick Murphy, also one of the LANAC National Officers:

Add new recommendation 1 and renumber accordingly:

1.       The NUT Executive regrets that it has not been possible to reach agreement with the NASUWT over a date for national strike action this term but having considered
a)       The support shown by members for the regional strike action,
b)      The commitment made to members to call national strike action this term,
c)       The need to make clear to the Secretary of State that we are maintaining our escalating pattern of strike action until he withdraws his threats to pay, pensions and conditions, threats which have such serious consequences for teachers and for education,
we agree to give notice to employers for NUT members to take one-day national strike action on Wednesday November 27th combined with the proposed Lobby of Parliament. We will continue to invite the NASUWT to also participate in this strike action on that day whilst also approaching other unions involved in national disputes including the NAPO, PCS, UCU, FBU and CWU to seek their support for co-ordinated strike action as well.

In 5. (new 6) Reword to state: “A further escalating programme of national and rolling regional action be drawn up, in co-ordination with the NASUWT and other unions, including consideration of a two-day national strike.

In 7. (new 8) Insert after “People’s Assembly” “,campaigning activities by school groups and Local Associations in their local communities”

Regrettably, while 10 voted for this objection, 26 voted against with 1 abstention. As one of our opponents called for a recorded vote, then the voting record will be made public by the Union. 

Perhaps some felt that it was to their advantage in the Vice-President election for this to be in the public domain. The ten Executive members in support of this amendment were happy to see our votes recorded. At least now the choice facing members in the National Officers Election has been put into sharp focus.  

Don’t mourn, organise – and use your vote for Vice-President 

Morale and confidence were high after the determined response to the regional strikes. NUT members had been assured that there would be a further national one-day strike before the end of term. As we warned yesterday, postponement of that action is a setback which risks undermining that confidence and disorientating particularly our most active members who are key to union strength.

The Local Associations National Action Campaign, set up after a similar setback when the NUT failed to maintain pensions action in 2012, will again work hard to make sure that this is only a temporary setback. A LANAC steering committee is being called for Saturday November 23 at the International Community Centre on Mansfield Road, Nottingham from 12 noon to 3pm.This will be an opportunity to take stock and organise for the escalating campaign of action that has to take place after Christmas. 

The solidity of the October strikes would have been starting to put the pressure on Gove. However, yesterday’s postponement of national strike action makes it even less likely that any meaningful concession will be offered to the unions in the next few weeks.  

We must guard against any suggestion that unions settle for some unacceptable ’deal’ that leaves most of the threats to teachers’ pay, pensions and conditions still in place. We have to build for a serious strategy of co-ordinated escalating action that can force Gove into a serious retreat. We have a responsibility to our members, and to the students we teach, to stand firm and defend teachers and education.

NUT members who are unhappy with yesterday’s decision also have an immediate way of showing their discontent – by using their vote in the National Officers’ Election which opens later this week. 

As my election statement says “I called for continued action on pensions in 2012. Instead, union hesitation encouraged Gove to attack our pay. We have taken regional action in 2013. Now a calendar of national strikes must follow. Further hesitation would invite further attacks. Gove needs to know we are standing firm”.

I would ask that everyone who agrees with that statement now calls on NUT members across England and Wales to VOTE POWELL-DAVIES 1

* The ICC is just north of town, about 400 metres up Mansfield Road from the entrance to the Victoria Shopping Centre. Postcode: NG1 3FN

Wednesday 23 October 2013

November's national action hanging in the balance?

After the well-supported joint NUT/NASUWT regional strikes, teachers are now awaiting news from their unions about what follows next. A commitment had been made that the regional action would be followed by a joint national one-day strike before Christmas. However, when the NUT Executive meets on Friday, it is not clear whether a strike date in November will be confirmed or whether the recommendation will be to postpone that action.

Although discussions are reportedly still continuing between the NUT and NASUWT, there are worrying rumours circulating that the NASUWT might not be willing to proceed with the joint action this term. 

Nothing is yet certain but, if this proves to be the case, any such back-pedalling would be a bitter disappointment to all those who gave up a day’s pay to strike and demonstrate in such determined fashion on October 17, and in the two previous regional strikes. The possibility that the national action might now be postponed until sometime in the New Year was met with stunned anger by a meeting of Lewisham NUT reps this week. “Incandescent” was how one very typical primary school rep described her feelings. That anger should not be underestimated.

Any postponement would risk signalling to teachers and ministers alike that unions lack confidence and are backing away from their announced plan of action.  There is no need to lack confidence. The energy and anger at all the rallies last Thursday showed that there would be clear support from teachers for a clear plan of continuing strike action.

If this rumour is confirmed when the NUT Executive meets on Friday, then, as Alex Kenny, the other NUT Executive member for Inner London has put it in an email to our Local Associations “In broad terms the NUT Executive may have to decide between calling a national strike without the NASUWT this term or agreeing to a strike at a later date with the NASUWT”.

If we are left with these choices on Friday, then clearly neither option is the choice that we would have wanted to have been making. However, unless the NASUWT and NUT are able to give notice now for an agreed and specific joint strike date in January, then I believe that the NUT Executive has no choice but to go ahead with giving notice for our own national strike at the end of November.  

We should announce our strike date and also immediately approach other unions like the CWU, FBU, PCS and UCU to discuss whether they would co-ordinate strike action on the same date. For teachers, such co-ordination, if it could be agreed, would not be as concrete as co-ordination with the NASUWT, but would help to strengthen the action, the publicity, and the pressure on the Government.

If we delayed, what justification could we give for our decision?  Some may be hoping that we might be given the offer of ‘talks’ by Gove and could sell this as a gain that we have won. But Gove has always said that he is prepared to offer talks, but talks on the basis that his ‘policy direction’ on pay and pensions is ‘fixed’.  What can we expect to win out of ‘talks’ based on Gove’s fixed parameters? Firm national strike action this year - with the threat of more to follow in 2014 - is what is required to force Gove into serious negotiations.

If Gove wants to play at offering ‘talks’ to try and wrong-foot union opposition, then we should accept his offer but make clear that our strike goes ahead unless those talks lead to Gove conceding to our demands on pay, pensions and conditions. This would allow us to go into those talks from a position of strength, not from a position of weakness.

Some are arguing that it might be better to delay action until after the Review Body has reported on conditions at some point in the New Year. Firstly, this hands timescales over to Gove and the Review Body who are notorious for delaying the announcement of their decisions.  They could simply delay while the unions’ campaign loses vital momentum.

Secondly, it means abandoning the strategy that has been correctly followed up to now – of putting maximum pressure on the Review Body BEFORE it makes a decision. If that pressure still fails to convince the Review Body to pull back on suggested attacks on directed hours, holidays and other working conditions, then we should step up our action in the New Year. Delaying now would only encourage Gove and the Review Body to maintain their attacks.

So, the only argument that could be made, but undoubtedly one that would be strongly made, is that we have to postpone our action to maintain a united front with the NASUWT.

There’s no doubt that taking action alongside the NASUWT has strengthened the impact of our action and boosted the effect of the strikes, especially in areas where the NASUWT has a larger base of support. Having to strike without the NASUWT would be disappointing. However, going along with a postponement to an unconfirmed date would be worse.

Firstly, as discussed above, it would be hard to honestly justify the postponement. The confidence and expectations of teachers, raised up by the regional strikes, would suffer, and doubts could set in about how serious the unions are in defending teachers and education. This would make it harder, not easier, to build the next action when it is called. Momentum would be lost and Gove would be able to gleefully welcome the new-found ‘responsibility’ of the unions – while pushing ahead with his attacks.

If a firm date for a joint national strike were set for January, then, whilst there would still be some hard questions to answer, at least members could see that there were concrete plans made to continue the battle. However, if no firm January date could be announced, then the NUT would have no choice but to continue with the national strike that members are expecting in November. Such a decision would maintain the campaign’s momentum, keep up the pressure on Gove and make clear that the NUT is serious about fighting these attacks. 

If the NUT Executive has to reach this decision, unity between the NUT and NASUWT would clearly have been temporarily broken but, on the ground in schools, I think most NASUWT members would be asking questions of their leadership, not the NUT’s. From those debates, and from joint meetings of NUT and NASUWT staff in schools, we could still prepare for further joint action again in the New Year. This might lay the basis for a more genuine unity, not one where it seems that the NASUWT can have the final veto over plans for action.

Regrettably, this post won’t come as a real surprise to many active NUT members who have been following the debates within the Union over the last three years. It’s not without good reason that, at the beginning of October, I submitted the following warning in my election statement going out with the Vice-President ballot papers next week: “I called for continued action on pensions in 2012. Instead union hesitation encouraged Gove to attack pay. We have taken regional action in 2013. Now a calendar of national strikes must follow. Further hesitation would invite further attacks. Gove needs to know we are standing firm”.  

Let’s hope that Friday’s NUT Executive can still send the message to Gove that we ARE standing firm.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Organising Local Action to Oppose Unacceptable Pay Policies

The pressure on teachers is already immense, colleagues weighed down by unbearable workload, imposed targets and impossible demands. Now, thanks to Gove's performance-pay regulations, teachers face the added stress of not knowing whether or not they will be awarded progression up the pay scale next September.

The campaign of regional and national strike action is vital if we are going to win the reversal of this damaging legislation. However, in addition, the NUT and NASUWT have made clear that they are prepared to support strike action in schools where Governing Bodies adopt unacceptable pay and/or appraisal policies that implement the worst of Gove's performance-pay plans.

In Lewisham, we have been preparing since the beginning of term to take such action. Newsletters and meetings have explained to members why the Lewsham model policies need to be opposed. In some schools, we have successfully persuaded Governors to negotiate and agree policy changes. However, it is now clear that the threat of strike action will be needed in some schools if they are to be persuaded to listen to our arguments and adopt policies that are more supportive of teachers and education.

A meeting between Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy General Secretary, and a range of Lewisham NUT school reps was held this week to discuss concrete plans for action.

It was agreed that, if support for action is confirmed by the school groups, and if Governors refuse to make changes, then we would discuss with the NASUWT about proceeding to a joint three-day strike in those schools in November, with pay losses sustained by the Unions.

*As part of the campaign, reps in one school informed their Head today that I would be visiting an NUT members' meeting after half-term. They were told that, despite me being the Local Secretary of a recognised trade union, I didn't have 'permission' from the Head to attend! In response, the NUT reps let it be known that I would be holding the meeting on the school-gates instead. Strangely 'permission' has now been granted for me to come in after all !