On 25 October, NUT and NASUWT (the two largest teachers’ unions) called off a planned national strike, pencilled in for 27 November.
It will not be at all obvious to teachers, who struck in huge numbers in regional strikes in June and October, why the national strike has been pulled. And that is because there is no discernible reason.
It isn’t because the regional strikes were not well supported. The turnout and mood at the rallies and marches organised on those days could hardly have been better. Union leaders continued to talk at those events as if the next step was a national strike.
Nor has the strike been called off because unions have won any concessions. Michael Gove remains unmoved on the main issues, and has written to the NUT and NASUWT during the regional strikes to restate this.
At an emergency meeting of the NUT Executive on 25 October, the real reason for suspending the action was made clear. NASUWT simply refused to proceed with it, claiming to have had unspecified “feedback” from “some of their members” to indicate that a second strike this term is too much to ask of them. NUT leaders argued with their NASUWT counterparts at length. Since NASUWT simply wouldn’t budge, the NUT negotiating team came back to the Executive with a recommendation that the strike be suspended until a later date.
Except there is no definite later date. The two unions agreed that if there is to be a national joint strike it will take place by 13 February at the latest.
In the meantime they will claim to keep the campaign going by, amongst other things, organising a lobby of Parliament on 27 November (the planned strike day), an event which will not engage working teachers and almost certainly be pitiful.
At the NUT Executive, an amendment was proposed by Martin Powell Davies and myself (both prominent supporters of the Local Associations for National Action Campaign) to proceed with the November strike, hold it on the day of the lobby, and invite the NASUWT to reconsider. It also proposed to change the strategy for action beyond February, which currently consists only of regional strikes with no additional national strikes. This won the support of ten NEC members, but was defeated.
The problem for both unions is that they have had to explain this decision to members. NASUWT don’t want to say publicly that their members are reluctant to take more action this term, and NUT doesn’t want to publicly “blame” their partners.
Therefore it is claimed that Michael Gove has offered talks to resolve our dispute, which apparently would not have happened without the regional strikes in June and October.
A union press release on 25 October gave “confirmation” that “the Secretary of State is willing to discuss a basis for genuine talks on the unions’ trade disputes on teachers’ pay, pensions, workload and conditions of service and jobs.” In fact, the letter from Gove to the two General Secretaries offered nothing of the sort. It states plainly that “the government’s policy direction on pay and pensions is fixed” and offers to meet to discuss “your concerns about the implementation [emphasis added] of these changes”.
There is nothing new here. Gove has always said he was happy to meet, just not to reconsider the pay and pension changes. He will never reconsider unless he is forced to by the pressure of sustained strikes.
The latest decision is just one of a series going back to December 2011 which has seen union leaders retreat in the campaigns to defend pensions, pay, and conditions. Proceeding with the national strike, even if only the NUT took action, would not, on its own, have reversed this retreat, but it would have at least tried to maintain the momentum rebuilt over recent months and challenged the unaccountable and unaccounted for u-turn of the NASUWT leadership.
NUT associations should ensure that they send a delegate to the next LANAC Steering Committee on 23 November in Nottingham.