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NUT teachers conference: serious attacks require serious action
Martin Powell-Davis, NUT national executive
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) Conference 2013 meets to debate how best to defend teachers at a time when education as a whole is under fierce attack.
As the best organised teaching union, the NUT has a huge responsibility to use its strength to push back a government determined to drive through an agenda of cuts and privatisation.
If teachers go out and explain how the Con-Dems' attacks on pensions, pay and conditions are part of a broader attack on education, large sections of the public can be won to support our action, just as they were when unions took national action in 2011.
Martin Powell Davies, photo Paul Mattsson
Since then the full horror of the government's attacks is more widely understood. If we organise effectively and mobilise around a clear programme of action, then we can force them to retreat.
Tory minister Michael Gove has talked of declaring 'war' on the teaching unions because he knows our potential strength.
When we take action, thousands of schools are closed, working lives and the economy widely disrupted, trade union opposition to cuts clearly displayed in every community.
This government is not confident that it can push through its plans. It knows that, beneath the surface there is massive discontent at the banksters and the super-rich, who the government represents.
With its cuts packages threatening a 'triple-dip' recession, the Coalition is struggling to show that it has any solution to the continuing economic crisis.
Yet throughout 2012, the Con-Dems must hardly have been able to believe their luck. The retreat by unions such as Unison and ATL over pensions left other unions isolated and significant joint national action was not repeated again since November 2011.
That retreat also left some in the NUT leadership seemingly struggling with a crisis of confidence.
Instead of leading the way, as the NUT had done in June 2011, last year NUT only called a London regional strike which, although confirming that teachers would take action when a lead is given, wasn't then followed by further major action.
For over three months after Gove announced his performance-pay attacks in early December, no strike plans were announced.
Even the publicity for members seemed strangely muted. Leaflets had to be produced by Local Associations, 'Classroom Teacher' and others, from below.
The leadership seemed to draw the conclusion that the NUT can't act alone - it has to make sure the NASUWT acts with us too.
Of course unions acting together adds strength - that's why the Socialist Party has been to the fore in campaigning for the TUC to discuss and build generalised strike action.
However, there's a balance to be struck at each stage between the benefits of taking joint action and the risks of having to go at the speed of the slowest partner.
The NASUWT remains a difficult partner to negotiate with - certainly at the top. Hopefully, out of joint action, links can be strengthened from below that can also put pressure on the NASUWT tops to maintain action.
The joint NASUWT/NUT 'action short of strike action' has won some gains and helped build union organisation in some schools.
However, school-by-school action asks a lot of local union organisation and has inevitably been 'patchy'. Localised battles are no substitute for national strike action to win our demands.
On pensions, we need to reverse the increased pension ages and win a pay rise that gives us back what we have lost to inflation and contribution increases.
On workload we need to win the 35-hour limit on working hours, with a maximum of 20 hours pupil contact time, listed in Motion 55.
Immediately, we have to fight to reverse the severe attacks on pay that will soon be legislated for in the Pay and Conditions Document.
Immediately, we have to build and escalate action on PRP. The NUT/NASUWT programme marks, at last, a return to action, but it needs strengthening.
It should start with a day of national strike action, linking with the PCS civil service union in June.
It would be best if this involved the NASUWT but the NUT must be prepared to take this step without other teaching unions if necessary.
If the NUT gives a bold lead then NASUWT members will demand that their leadership joins the action. The plans for the autumn term need to be announced and dates set for further escalating action in 2014.
This article is based on material in the Socialist Party bulletin at NUT conference. See the blogs of Socialist Party NUT executive members: electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk and electglover1.blogspot.co.uk
In The Socialist 27 March 2013:
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