On 2 February over 100 National Union of Teachers branch secretaries met for a national briefing at the union’s HQ in London to discuss the next steps in the pension campaign and to consider resistance to new performance management and capability arrangements which are likely to increase workload and monitoring.
The main business was pensions. The mood was as positive and determined as could be expected given the outright surrender by many unions on public sector pensions, and the lack of action since 30 November by others.
Most agreed that the current “offer” is absolutely unacceptable and that the NUT is right to refuse to sign up to it. On the next steps in the campaign, there was no hiding from the challenges and no suggestion from anyone that we should shy away from the need for further action.
Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney indicated that a specific date for action — in March — would be proposed to the National Executive’s special meeting on 9 February. A survey of union members has confirmed what most people know, which is that they are far more likely to feel confident about action when other unions are also involved.
However, most people at the briefing thought that we have no choice but to provide a lead while still encouraging others to work with us.
The most encouraging signal from the union leadership was a statement by Kevin Courtney that a further national strike must not be a one-off isolated protest, but instead part of a planned and escalating programme of action to force the government to reopen negotiations.
It is vital that the NUT develop and publicise such a programme soon, as a signal to teachers and the government that this campaign is very much alive. Rather than very occasional national strike days with no action in between, it should be possible to build a more sustained campaign which reminds the government regularly and frequently that the pension dispute is far from settled.
We need rolling, selective action alongside national strikes, with strike funds and a levy on members.
Specifically a programme for the first half of the summer term could include the following:
• Strike action by members in secondary schools on a regional basis on a fortnightly rota starting in the week beginning 16 April
• Strike action co-ordinated with PCS and UCU in divisions with large higher and further education colleges with members in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and/or large civil service departments on a fortnightly rota. This action to be sustained via the sustentation fund and to alternate with the regional secondary action.
• A strike levy of members in non-secondary settings to support the sustentation of action by secondary members.
• Urgent consideration of an appropriate level of sustentation for secondary members involved in regional rolling action with a preference for 50% sustentation.
• Further national strike action in April and May co-ordinated with as many other unions as are prepared to participate.
• PCS may move to strike in late March.