Wednesday 4 June 2014

NUT General Secretary Election – My Pledges to You

If elected NUT General Secretary, I pledge to:
  • Encourage professional unity and united trade union action
  • Strengthen workplace organisation across all sectors
  • Build vibrant Local Associations
  • Publicise campaign successes
  • Sharpen our media messages
  • Work to reclaim education from damaging ‘reforms’
  • Give members confidence to take the action needed
  • Remain on a classroom teacher’s salary

The election to decide on the next General Secretary of the NUT opens today. NUT members have until June 25 to choose between the two candidates – Christine Blower and myself – and to return their voting papers.

In my election statement, sent out with the voting papers, I have set out both the challenges facing teachers and my action strategy to defend education. I have also listed eight commitments that I pledge to keep if elected NUT General Secretary for 2014-2019:

1. Encourage professional unity and united trade union action

It’s obvious that when trade unionists take action together, they will have a bigger impact. That’s why, if elected NUT GS, I pledge to work to build united action across teaching unions – and across the public sector as a whole. The proposed joint strike action on July 10 can help build that unity.

The joint public sector action in November 2011 helped force the Government to make at least some limited concessions over pensions. However, they still managed to impose their unacceptable ‘pay more, get less, retire older’ scheme. Since then, unions have failed to organise the serious calendar of ongoing action action needed to win serious concessions over pay, pensions and workload.

Regrettably, as I warned, the NASUWT leadership have not proved reliable partners. The lesson we need to learn is that real unity has to be built from below, in joint meetings at school level, so that teachers work together locally – and demand united action nationally from all of their unions.

2. Strengthen workplace organisation across all sectors

Well-organised trade unions have the potential strength to stand up to the attacks on education. That’s one reason why politicians want to break-up our national conditions and undermine trade union organisation through academisation and attacks on facility time.

The growth of individual academy chains and the increasing powers given to individual schools to make decisions, especially over pay, mean that building strength and unity at school level is going to be vital if we are to successfully defend teachers – in all sectors, academies and maintained.

The pressures on individual teachers are enormous but, out of those pressures, new reps are coming forward determined to try and organise the union in their workplace. If elected GS, I will prioritise making sure that those reps are trained and supported so that we build a strong and successful National Union.

3. Build vibrant Local Associations

Government attempts to break-up Local Authority schooling means that we are having to change some of the ways we organise across academy chains – but there is still no substitute to having a lively, well-organised, Local NUT Association bringing together teachers in a local area from across different schools.

The pressure of excessive teacher workload is a significant factor in preventing teachers attending local meetings. Some Associations are finding it hard to attract new officers and build their meeting attendance. However, others are succeeding, such as my own Lewisham Association which, while always aiming to improve, holds regular quorate meetings with new faces and new reps recruited.

If elected GS, I pledge to make sure the Union is sharing successful approaches across different Associations and helping to support those who need assistance. I will make it a priority to speak to reps meetings and at Associations and Divisions across England and Wales and to encourage local organisation. Tackling excessive workload would also be one of my key priorities.

4. Publicise campaign successes

Nothing succeeds like success. Across the Union, battles are being fought by school groups and Local Associations on a whole range of issues. When members do stand firm, victories can often be won. That’s certainly been the case over pay policies, including in my Lewisham Association where the threat of a co-ordinated strike across seven different schools helped win an improved policy.

As a Union, we need to make more of those successful battles, making sure that we publicise our achievements so that others can be encouraged to take the same route. We can also learn from the struggles being fought by teacher unions internationally as well.

If elected GS, I pledge to make sure that those struggles and successes are much better publicised in our materials and, particularly, in the pages of ‘The Teacher’ magazine. I believe that The Teacher needs a major overhaul so that it better reflects the harsh reality of teachers’ lives than it does at present and is better used as a campaigning tool that can reach every member of the Union.

5. Sharpen our media messages

Trade unions can’t rely on the corporate press and media to support us – but we can make better use of the opportunities that we have to get our message across. I have long experience of speaking up for teachers on radio and television – as my YouTube channel shows. I have also spoken up about the attacks on public services in Britain on international television, in Belgium and Norway.

If elected GS, I pledge to take every opportunity to explain our case to parents and the public and to explain why we seek their support for our action to defend education. Just as people have been rallying to defend their local NHS services, we have to explain how education is at risk from cuts and privatisation and how the pressures on teachers are driving colleagues out of the job, damaging education.

Our messages need to be sharper and clearer, to both parents and to our own members. The information sent out after the last National Executive was one example of how NOT to do things. It was misinterpreted by some colleagues and newspapers as the NUT ‘calling off’ action. Instead, we should have been – and need to be – clear that we are building for even stronger action on July 10.

6. Work to reclaim education from damaging ‘reforms’

If elected GS, I pledge to make sure that teachers and parents alike appreciate that our struggles to defend teachers’ pay, pensions and conditions are part of a far bigger struggle to defend education.

Successive governments have abandoned the post-war consensus in favour of widening educational opportunities for all and for increasing funding on public services. Instead, the neo-liberal “Global Education Reform Movement” has spread internationally, especially in Britain, seeking to impose ‘competition’ between schools, judged by tests and league tables, damaging education and opening up education and other services to profiteering businesses who put their own interests first.

The NUT must play a leading role in opposing these supposed ‘reforms’ and winning support across the trade union movement for action to defend public services. In doing so, we must recognise that, despite the views of individual NUT members and others in those parties, the national leaderships of all the main political parties share essentially the same educational agenda. That’s why I also support efforts, such as TUSC, to encourage trade unions to rebuild a real political voice for trade unionists.

7. Give members confidence to take the action needed

Nobody takes strike action lightly. Firstly, teachers want to avoid having too great an impact on children’s education if possible. Secondly, teachers don’t want to lose money through strike action without good reason. However, most NUT members have supported their Union when it has come to strike action because they know that we cannot allow the increasingly unbearable conditions in schools to continue.

What teachers need is confidence. Firstly, confidence that they can take action in their school and bring other colleagues on strike with them. Secondly, confidence that the Union has a serious plan to win our dispute, rather than just taking occasional ‘protest’ action just to show our discontent.

If elected GS, I would argue for the NUT to announce a clear plan of ongoing action aimed at achieving clear campaign objectives. I would use my position to convince colleagues and mobilise the membership to build that action, visiting schools and Local Associations, using sharp and clear communications – to give confidence to teachers that we have a strategy that can win. I would also make sure that we take a much more serious approach to preparing financially for ongoing action, especially appealing for hardship funds.

8. Remain on a classroom teacher’s salary

A Union leadership needs to show its members that it is in touch with the problems they face. If elected NUT GS, I would want to be seen as a teacher who is speaking up for classroom teachers.

Following the example of the new leadership elected to the Chicago Teachers’ Union, I believe that the salaries of Union officials should be linked to the salaries of the members they represent. There is increasing distrust of politicians, and some senior managers, who seem happy to award themselves large salaries and expenses while others are finding it hard to pay their bills. That’s also one way that officials can get out of touch with their membership. Any such suspicion can undermine union strength, particularly when politicians are trying to find ways to divide opposition.

I pledge that, if elected NUT GS, I would continue to take only my existing classroom teacher's salary, with any additional essential expense claims fully open to members’ scrutiny. I would donate the considerable additional salary that the General Secretary is entitled to under current NUT rules towards trade union and solidarity campaigns and to assist the work of the Union.

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