It’s hard to work out with any reliability the political balance in the first ever National Executive of the National Education Union (NEU). As the fourth biggest union in the UK and the first to organise all school and college workers the direction of the NEU will be hugely important for the trade union movement.
Elections to the new Executive closed on December 3rd. There were 73 places made up of 17 geographical electoral districts, 3 equality seats and 3 sector seats (post-16, support staff and independent schools). The problem with assessing the results arises from a number of factors:
The election included protections to ensure that each district elected at least one member from the old ATL and NUT sections.
Lots of new people have been elected whose political stance is more or less unknown.
The political allegiances within the NUT section, where they were a major factor in the past, have changed significantly in recent years and continue to do so. The biggest and most recent shift is that the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance (STA) and Broadly Speaking (traditionally the ‘moderates’) have followed months of working more closely together by creating a formal alliance to work together. An invitation-only meeting was held in London on December 9th to launch this new group. Supporters of the Education Solidarity Network (ESN) and the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU) were not invited. Oddly it seems that some of the SWP were invited and others weren’t.
The political basis for this alliance is close to impossible to fathom. So far two rationales have been suggested. One is that the dividing line was based on how NUT Executive members voted on a proposal to keep our 5% pay claim alive earlier this term rather than abandon it in favour of demanding the government apply the Review Body’s 3.5% recommendation in full. This would explain the invitation to some but not all SWP members but it falls apart when you realise that the person who proposed the offending motion was invited. The other rationalisation is that the priority in the new union is to ensure that it continues to be more like the NUT than the ATL and that means uniting all those who champion the NUT way of doing things. As such the aims are pretty conservative and unlikely to address the many failings of the NUT recently.
There is a more prosaic reason why all of this is hard to work out clearly. This new alliance has, in reality, one aim and one aim only: to maintain the power and positions of the people currently in leading positions. There are no principles or policies which will be allowed to get in the way of that.
All that having been said my best estimate of the political balance on the NEU Executive is as follows:
Broadly Speaking: 10
STA: 24 (including 6 SWP)
The rigidity of this balance will, of course, be tested by events and decisions over the next year. Many of those who arrive on January 12th with a particular loyalty are likely be surprised and disappointed by some of what they see along the way. The NEU has great potential if it is prepared to fight, to organise all school workers and not just teachers and to accept challenge from its rank and file. Those who have that perspective need to continue to argue their case, present their alternatives and both speak and listen to everyone in the months ahead. That way we can create a new and more promising dynamic than the dull bureaucratic club suggested by these election results.
By Patrick Murphy