More than one hundred delegates, representing over thirty National Union of Teachers associations met in Liverpool on 16 June. The meeting, called by ‘Local Associations for Action’, drew together a diverse range of union activists unhappy with the outcome of recent disputes but determined to organise for effective action in the future.
Opening the meeting, Julie Lyon Taylor (NUT Executive) explained the situation: “We’re here because we expected more after 30 November … it became clear that we weren’t moving to take more action … Some of us on the Executive pushed and pushed for more action. We organised a meeting at conference of over one hundred people [to address the issues]. It became clear that what happened at conference made another meeting necessary.
“There is now a further ballot taking place. We need to have a massive turnout; we need to make the ballot massive. We are the people who can do it.”
Patrick Murphy (NUT Executive) explained the rationale for Liverpool meeting: “What’s happening here today is a model for how trade unionists react when things go badly. When you have a setback you organise. Whatever flaws, our guiding principle is that you organise…
“The government thinks the pension dispute is done. They have good reason for this. There are no more meetings scheduled, no more negotiations. The union fought on the basis of opposing all the governments’ proposals but outside of London there has been no action on pensions since 30 November.
“That’s why the government thinks the way it does and that’s why we are here. There’s anger in our union that this is the case, there’s demoralisation and frustration not just amongst union activists but in every school.
“The proper response to this is to address these feelings, to give our members a voice and to bring them into union activity…
“The situation to date is not good, but as the American union organiser Joe Hill famously said ‘don’t mourn, organise’”.
A steering committee had been working since the NUT’s national conference to organise the Liverpool conference and to put together a statement of intent. The steering committee was made up of several executive members who’d been central to opposing the union’s drift away from action and representatives of supporting divisions and associations. The committee included members of the Socialist Teachers Alliance, Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union and the socialist groups that organise separately within the union. The aim though, is to go well beyond these already existing groupings to form a much broader network of activists committed to winning effective action in the future.
The statement presented to the Liverpool meeting called for the establishment of an ongoing network, based on supporting NUT associations and school representatives. The aim is to build a network to “enable teacher trade unionists to exchange information, debate and discuss strategy to defeat the serious attacks we face, call on our National Unions to implement such a strategy, and organise solidarity between local and national struggles” (see here for full statement).
A number of amendments to the statement were presented at conference. Only two of the proposed amendments were defeated. The first from Greenwich called on the Union to set a date for three days of strike in September and to escalate action from this point. Liam Conway (Nottinghamshire) spoke against this proposal, saying that whilst we should sympathise with the intentions of the amendment it is clear that we are not in a position to call such action in the given time frame. The situation since 30 November has been a de-escalation of union activity and in order to reach the point where such an increase in strike action is possible, we need to re-escalate and re-organise members from a virtual standstill.
The second defeated amendment came from Croydon and was presented by Dave Harvey (NUT Executive). This amendment called for the next Local Associations conference to be called in conjunction with the Campaign Teacher (CT) editorial board. CT is an irregular newspaper supported and distributed by around sixty NUT divisions and associations.
In opposing this amendment, Pat Murphy pointed out that CT is a newspaper and not a representative organisation. Further, CT’s editorial board was last elected more than two years ago and includes people not present at the Liverpool meeting because they are opposed to the aims of the network. Pat also pointed out that members of the editorial board had voted against further strike action after 30 November, in direct contradiction to the aims of those assembled in Liverpool.
Both of these amendments were overwhelmingly defeated, even though the Croydon amendment received the support of SWP delegates and others. Some of those supporting the Croydon amendment left the meeting shortly after the vote.
The final vote on the amended statement was carried unanimously.
Roy Bowser, Barnsley division secretary and a miner active in the 84-85, strike closed the meeting. In his speech he pointed out the manifold attacks now facing not just teachers but the entire working class. Highlighting the viciousness of the present government he called for an organisation that can meet the challenge and mobilise school workers for the fight.
Speaking after the meeting, Roy said that the meeting “surpassed all my expectations but more to the point was a true outlet for the way most members are feeling. I think behind the rhetoric there is a real base for a rank and file bottom up push that hopefully will now help shape strategy.”
Indeed, this is now that task that faces those who supported the Liverpool meeting. The new ballot of NUT members must be won with overwhelming turnout and positive support. However, we must organise for more than a ‘yes’ vote.
Some delegates argued that we should not “look backwards” at previous defeats but work to ensure a positive result. This is a blinkered view of the situation. We must not only secure a yes vote but learn from the very recent past and push with all our organisational strength for an effective strategy and a programme of action that can actually win.