London teachers want plan to fight on pay

More than 250 people attended the pay briefing organised for London National Union of Teachers reps on a snowy Saturday in the centre of the city (19 January 2013).

The turnout reflects the anger ordinary teachers feel about the government's austerity drive and Michael Gove's all-out assault on the working conditions and living standard of teachers.

The 'briefing' section of the meeting was kept mercifully short; General Secretary Christine Blower made some introductory remarks which implied that 'action', presumably including strike action, was necessary in the face of the latest government announcements about the effective abolition of the teachers' pay scales, the continuation of 0-1% pay "rises" and the introduction of straightforwardly performance related pay.

She reminded the members that the union has a live ballot and they would not need to vote again in order to strike. Following a brief powerpoint presentation containing some of the detail of the pay proposals, the meeting was opened up to the floor and the chairs allowed well over an hour for contributions and discussion before the elected National Executive members for London were allowed to come back to respond to what had been said.

The meeting was a useful model of how the union should involve its reps before and during every major dispute.

It would be fair to say the meeting was much more representative of the union membership than the average London region or association meeting. Certainly for the first 40 or so minutes of the discussion it was notable that the overwhelming majority of the speakers were women, and also not 'known' activists. It was also the case that speakers avoided the perennial union/left problem of waffling on for ages, so we heard from a lot of reps.

And what they said, overwhelmingly, was that the union must strike, as soon as possible, and without NASUWT if that was what was necessary.

Another notable element of the debate was the general hostility to rolling regional action which has been created among London reps following the frankly disastrous London-only strike last March. Perhaps these members could be persuaded to support such action if a whole list of dates were named and London came last, but it would be a hard job. Reps in schools with weak NUT groups also asked for national-only action as they felt they would get a better turnout that way.

Several reps also pointed out the need for more than one day of strike action, or at least for an end to one day 'protest' strikes which are clearly not part of a planned strategy to win.

The general tone of Christine Blower's comments and those of the executive members present at the end shows that it is likely the executive will vote for a one day strike when it meets this week, but the real danger is if that is all they vote for.

I made a contribution arguing for both clear demands rather than just asking Gove to negotiate (for example picking a percentage figure for a winnable pay rise and fighting for that) and for a series of 'action dates' to be announced this week, which wouldn't necessarily all be strike dates but would utilize a range of tactics such as wearing the same colour to work, lobbying MPs' surgeries and other stunts, so that something visible is happening every single week to build the sense of a living, breathing campaign.

If such a plan is not forthcoming from the executive this week, LANAC members will need to intervene strongly in the next series of regional pay briefings to pressure the leadership to deliver something better than another one day protest strike.