Teachers need a clear set of demands

Submitted by Matthew on 9 April, 2014 - 10:47

Delegates to the conference of the National Union of Teachers will meet in Brighton from 18-22 April just weeks after our national strike.

Top of the agenda will be the national dispute with Michael Gove and, specifically, the next steps in the campaign of industrial action and public agitation. As at previous conferences the debate on the dispute will be shaped by a priority motion from the National Executive and amendments from delegates.

There are at least three major issues to resolve.

First what is the action plan for the months ahead? The Executive motion recommends a further one day strike in late in June and a commitment to develop a programme of further action for the Autumn term and beyond if there continues to be no change in starnce from the Secretary of State.

But is that outline plan is enough to turn the NUT’s episodic action campaign into something that can force significant concessions.

A sizeable number of delegates, particularly those from branches supporting the rank and file network LANAC, will want to strengthen that proposal and flesh out “a programme of further action”.

Second what are the possibilities for co-ordination with other unions. The Executive will again seek to co-ordinate that action with the NASUWT but not only with them.

The debates that have taken place in the union have never been about whether action is more effective when the two big teacher unions collaborate. It clearly is. Rather they have been about the extent to which action is delayed and momentum lost by the extreme reluctance of the NASUWT to act with any sense of urgency.

There is some possibility that school support staff in Unison and GMB will be in dispute with the government over local government pay between now and the summer. If members of those unions vote yes in their ballots for action the impact on schools will be great and that could deliver a real boost.

Finally it has not been easy for the average member to keep a consistent picture of what this dispute is actually about.

The first strikes in 2011 (June and November) were very clearly in defence of teachers’ pensions.

Until a few weeks ago there was no further national strike action. In the meantime the pension age increased to 65, final salary pensions were abolished and teachers saw their pay packets hit by two huge pension contribution increases.

When the campaign was finally revived in 2013 it involved working with the second biggest union, the NASUWT, and the issues in dispute expanded to cover pay and workload.

By agreement between the two unions it was rebranded as “Protecting Teachers, Defending Education”. In the run-up to the strike on 26 March the branding changed again to “Stand Up for Education” in recognition that the NASUWT were not taking action.

While all the issues could be found in union material there was a tendency to rely on a general wave of anti-Gove sentiment to maintain momentum. Hostility to Gove and the proud advocacy of a broader and more liberating education system are both good things but they are not a substitute for clear understandable demands.

In 2011, teachers knew what they were striking for. In 2014 they need to know what is being demanded from the government apart from that they talk to us.

A return to national pay scales, a more realistic pension age and real limits to working conditions and hours could be encapsulated in a national contract to be fought for in alliance with parents and other unions.

The argument that exhausted, demoralised teachers are bad for children and schools is an important one but we need to turn that into a concrete programme which can mobilise members and be understood by parents.

Why I am asking for your support

Patrick Murphy is standing for Deputy General Secretary of the NUT

We need to combine the public campaigning, street stalls and political pressure with a plan for ongoing and escalating industrial action which can win serious improvements. We need precise demands instead of bland calls for Gove to “consider compromise”.

I have proposed, argued and voted for such an approach at every stage in this campaign

The NUT has been right to turn outwards to parents and the public in the campaign to stand up for education. But, industrially, we built up momentum in 2011 only to allow it to dissipate.

Three one day national strikes spread over three years, and one set of regional strikes, is not enough to beat Gove, or to put real pressure for improvements on a possible Labour government after 2015.

Reducing Workload

It is good that the STRB rejected Michael Gove’s plans to lengthen school terms and the working day. But we need changes which enable us to come fresh to our classrooms, which free us from bureaucracy to focus on teaching, and which make teaching a tolerable job.

The NUT-NASUWT joint workload action achieved gains, but only in a small number of schools.

The DfE workload survey shows that teachers’ average weekly hours have increased to 59 for primary and 56 for secondary.

The union should relaunch and step up the workload action, and focus it more tightly on a few key pressure points such as appraisal targets, data entry, requirements to submit lesson plans, meetings, and observations. Victories on those issues will rebuild union power to help us win on pay, pensions, etc.

We should fight, in alliance with parents and the wider public, for a national contract for decent conditions which cover all teachers in state-funded schools.

Organising from the bottom

Maintain local divisions and associations but build workplace groups and academy chain committees.

I want to see local associations and divisions remain as the local democratic focus for members. It makes sense for members to link up each other in the areas where they live and work. But they are no longer enough on their own. With the growth of academies and the weakening of local authorities it is more important than ever that the workplace group is strengthened and empowered within union structures. School groups should be at the heart of the Union. The union should build committees to link school groups across Academy chains. Negotiations with academy chains should wherever possible be led and controlled by members working in those chains. Union decision-making should be more transparent, with the Executive discussing proposals from the rank and file and publishing its minutes.

One school workers’ union

With all teachers — and all support staff — in one union we can defend education and protect all our conditions more effectively.

Picking up on our message of “Fair Pensions For All”, the union should also be politically active, working with the rest of the labour movement to advance social equality, social provision, workers’ rights, and education which inspires and liberates.

A teachers’ leader on a teachers’ salary.

Union leaders should be much closer to their members and to the conditions they experience. If elected I would remain on my current teachers’ salary point.

• Patrick is the Division Secretary for Leeds NUT and National Executive member for district 4 (Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield). He is an active socialist, a supporter of the Local Associations National Action Campaign and a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

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