From the LANAC teachers' rank-and-file network
The National Union of Teachers Executive met on Thursday December 13th to consider our response to the latest pay proposals from the STRB which were endorsed by Michael Gove the previous week. Following the usual pattern Executive members received an urgency report from officers which outlined how they thought we should respond and it was up to any of us who disagreed to put in an objection. As it turned out the last thing you could find in the officers' response was urgency. It committed us to no specific action at all in the immediate period ahead. It did say that we would need national strike action in opposition to the attack on our pay, that we should approach the NASUWT for co-ordination and that the strike action should happen in the Spring term. In practice, though, there was no guarantee of any action at any point.
An objection was moved which proposed that we "instruct our negotiating team to urgently approach the NASUWT to seek their agreement for both unions to give notice for a first day of action to take place no later than the first week of February 2013" and that we "call a special meeting of the Executive on January 10th 2013 to agree on the date that will be called for a first day of national strike action and to consider further dates that could form part of our calendar of action". I spoke and voted for that objection but it was defeated with 13 of us voting for, 27 against and 1 abstention.
What this means in practice is that there is little prospect of an industrial action response to Gove's pay proposals earlier than March and no guarantee of it even then. There is no Executive meeting until late January and that is followed by staggered half-term breaks across the country. Given the scale of the attacks this falls very well short of what members should expect from their union.
To me the most concerning aspect of the debate was not the vote (though that was bad enough) but the content of the long officers' paper and the speeches made to justify it. The report was littered with complacency and the speeches gave the impression that the real battle with Gove was over the Ebacc. It suggested that once austerity and pay cuts really sink in people will get much angrier and be up for action. We must be careful, so the argument went, not to spoil that prospect by going to early. There was an assumption that most members wouldn't be affected, or would think they weren't affected, by the proposals for some time yet. We were even told it would be a two- year campaign running all the way to the election.
It was easy to forget, while listening to this wisdom, that the Secretary of State is busying himself with putting these changes into legislation so that they take effect from Sept 1st next year. Not only will pay be frozen for another two years but the national pay arrangements will be torn up, progression up the main scale will be at the discretion of Heads, teachers moving jobs will not be guaranteed to remain on their existing pay point, UPS teachers may be required to take on additional responsibilities and they have made it clear that will be back for our conditions next year. The idea that "benign" heads will reassure many members that they won't use these powers was cited in the debate as a reason to expect members to be reluctant to act. In fact it is clear from the proposals that both OFSTED and governing bodies will be used to police heads and ensure that they ration pay more miserably than now. And if that is not enough the severe budget settlements ahead will force their hands.
That the majority if the National Executive of the NUT cannot see the urgency and significance of what faces us is very worrying indeed. But all is not lost. There are a huge number of members, reps, local officers and Executive members who reject this sleepwalking approach and see the urgent need for collective national action in opposition to these proposals, not at some remote time in the future but now as they are being put in place. I had messages from 43 school groups in Calderdale in advance of the meeting and a statement signed by over 40 members (mostly reps) in Wakefield urging us to call national strike action. With the NASUWT if possible, they said, but without them if necessary. A survey conducted by the Union and reported to us showed that 79% supported strike action even if only the NUT took part and 84% if it was with the NASUWT. And we shouldn't forget either that members have already voted for national strike action on pay and other issues earlier this year. It isn't the members that lack a sense of urgency or confidence, it's the Union's leadership.
There is plenty to do in the weeks ahead to turn this around. A programme of reps briefings and rallies will be held in January and led by the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary. It is vital that reps attend these meetings in large numbers and make their feelings known. The good work in areas like Calderdale and Wakefield can be replicated in other areas. It will prove immensely important that local branches and Executive members dismayed at the demobilisation of the pensions campaign launched a rank and file initiative earlier this year to rebuild national action ( Local Associations for National Action). LANAC will be focusing in the weeks and months ahead on mobilising members and reps to demonstrate as clearly as possible that the Executive has misread the mood and that there is widespread support for a more robust and effective response to this. If the decision has disappointed then keep a check on the LANAC website (www.nutlan.org.uk) and information from your local union for details of rallies and reps briefings and things you can do to ensure our response to Gove is fit for purpose. Its true that Gove has launched a war on teachers, the problem is that his is the only army on the battlefield. It's time we showed up.
Executive member District 4 (West Yorkshire)