Thursday 5 June 2014

Answering My Critics - Achievable Objectives and a Calendar of Action

As I have explained in an earlier post this evening, some of my opponents seem to have decided on 'twitter trolling' as a means of campaigning against me - which is never the most constructive way of conducting debate. Nevertheless, the exchange pictured below actually goes to the heart of what my election stand is about, and is worthy of a longer response:

Let's start with the cost of my demands - and the implication that they are therefore unachievable. If so, then that's a serious issue for the Union, because my demands are just a bold statement of the kind of objectives that most NUT members think we are still campaigning for. They are:
  • Real limits on teachers’ overall hours
  • At least 20% PPA for all
  • A full pension at 60 - not 68
  • End Performance-Related Pay
  • A £2,000 increase on all pay points
  • Abolish Ofsted and league tables
Most of those demands are NUT policy. The only demand that is specific to my campaign is the demand for a £2,000 increase on all pay-points. For now, 2014 Conference policy states more vaguely that we should "formulate a pay-claim aimed at restoring the cuts in pay suffered by teachers since 2010". I think my demand - a clear flat-rate claim that benefits those on the lowest salaries the most - sums up that aim well. It is a claim that at least goes some way to getting back some of what has been stolen from us. It would be a 9.2% increase on point M1 in England/Wales, a 4.4% increase on U3 in Inner London. It's worth remembering that another Conference amendment from the Executive had simply called for “a pay rise for teachers in line with inflation”. That's not even 2%!

Of course, the Conservatives, and all those in support of 'austerity' would argue that the Union's demands were unaffordable. That's why the NUT rightly pointed that, over the lifetime of our pension scheme, £46 billion more has been paid in compared to what has been paid out. That's why the TUC and affiliates like the NUT and PCS have explained that there IS an alternative to austerity (See for example: ). That's why many of us will be marching on June 21st on the People's Assembly "No More Austerity" national demonstration.

Our demands for decent pay, pensions and working conditions for teachers - and for decent learning conditions for our children - are certainly not unachievable. However, they do directly confront the austerity agenda being peddled by all the main political parties. That's why we have to be honest with NUT members and explain that we can't expect to win serious concessions out of talks with the DfE until we show that we are prepared to take a serious calendar of strike action.

In building for our next national strike on July 10, I've written in a newsletter sent to every Lewisham NUT member that "we’ve got a clear choice to make. Do we just  accept defeat and allow things to get even worse? Surely, the answer has to be NO. If we do, then even more colleagues will resign or be driven out  of a profession that they once loved. Conditions for teachers - and for our students - will deteriorate. So, the only choice is surely to step up our action  so that  Cameron and Gove - and all of the political parties - have to take notice of what teachers are saying about the damage being done to education".

That would be the message that I would take across the Union if elected General Secretary - and, from that, build - in the words of 2014 Conference Policy - for "a series of strikes through the autumn term and into 2015". 

Preparing for a series of strikes - a calendar of action - is essential. At present, each strike seems to many teachers like an isolated protest action with no clear idea of what is following next. We need to be in a position where we can tell members - and warn Gove and the Government - what will follow next if they refuse to back down from their attacks.

Of course, such a campaign would need to be built for right across England and Wales and, as a newly-elected General Secretary, I would be using all my energy to do exactly that. There would be teachers who would be placed in financial hardship by such ongoing action. That's why I believe we do need a more consistent campaign for hardship funds and to urge members to 'save to strike' in advance of action where they can. However, what's certain is that, if we don't take that kind of action, far more will be stolen from teachers in lost pay and pensions - and in the unmeasurable costs of stress and excessive workload on teachers' lives.

The feedback that I have consistently received in meetings, is that teachers would be willing to accept further strike deductions, as long as they can be convinced that the NUT has a strategy that looks like it has a serious chance of winning our dispute. At present, many members are questioning whether we have such a strategy.

So, I am asked, what do I think such a 'calendar of action' should look like? Of course, I made that clear at NUT Conference when I proposed LANAC's amendment calling for "a programme of action for the Autumn Term [that] will consist of a week of action before the half-term break and a further week of action in November. In each week, all members covered by the union’s ballot will be called upon to take at least two consecutive days of strike action". Such a formulation could have allowed 2-day action to be divided regionally so that some areas take action on Tues / Wed and others on Wed / Thurs, spreading the impact of the strike over three days.

My opponents will be quick to point out that this specific proposal was defeated. True, but the idea that we need to threaten Gove with more than just one-off strikes but with an ongoing programme of action is gaining ground. What Conference did agree was that we should consult over the precise pattern of action that we should take. I would still put forward LANAC's proposal as a starting-point for those discussions about our ongoing action strategy. The possibility of co-ordination with other unions would also clearly be another factor in trying to arrive at a common calendar of co-ordinated action.

In conclusion, I believe that my proposed strategy is clear - and, as perhaps my opponents recognise, is gaining support. If they don't agree, then I think it is for them to set down their alternative strategy to winning the Union's demands.

No comments: