Sunday 17 November 2013

Another provocation from Michael Gove

The latest provocation from Gove

The members elected to the NUT National Executive for 2014-16 will face a sterner test than any previous national leadership has faced.

* Can we successfully defend teachers against the attacks on pay, pensions and conditions and on teacher trade union organisation? 

* Can we oppose attempts to go back to a Victorian age of payment-by-results and just an ‘elementary’ curriculum for working-class children? 

* Will teaching become an even more unbearable job where divided and bullied colleagues are used up, burnt out and then just replaced?

The answer to those questions is, I fear, in the balance. We face a Government determined to drive through cuts and privatisation. The next Government, whoever wins, may be little different. Yet their policies do not have public support, particularly if we expose their real agenda. I am confident that firm action can push back these attacks – but time is running short to organise it.

Since I have been on the Executive, I have helped build national action, as took place in 2011. However, I have also seen the anger from London teachers at being called out on an isolated regional strike in 2012 that was not then followed by further action. We have also all taken part in the determined regional action of 2013 – only to see Gove emboldened by the NASUWT and NUT drawing back from the national strike action that was promised for the end of November.

Members were told that we had been promised talks – but Gove was always clear that any ‘talks’ would only be about ‘implementation’ of his policies. His provocative responses to the NUT and NASUWT were only to be expected from a hardened Tory politician who saw his trade union enemies hesitating once again. Now that the talk of ‘genuine dialogue’ has been exposed as a sham, we must urgently reinstate our action.

If we keep hesitating, then we will only give Gove confidence to attack us even more. Yet, he should be the one on the back-foot. His policies on free-schools and pupil places are increasingly exposed. Our regional strikes were solidly-supported. We should be following up that action with a firm calendar of escalating action, which needs to include considering a two-day strike. 

Gove is giving teaching unions no choice but to organise a serious and determined struggle. If anyone thought that we might be able to persuade Gove to come to some kind of acceptable agreement, without a clear plan of further escalating action being in place, then they must now see that they were mistaken. 

Gove clearly can't resist trying to put the boot in but his provocations could yet backfire on him. Instead of stepping back, the NUT and NASUWT now need to step up our action, announcing a firm date for a national strike as soon as possible and also a plan for further national action after that. 

School reps should hold joint meetings of NUT and NASUWT members across England and Wales to respond to Gove's provocations and to build for national action. NUT members also need to elect a National Executive that will be as determined in fighting for that action as Gove is determined to attack education.

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