By Patrick Murphy
This year's Conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) was one of the most unified in recent memory.
Fairly militant policies were agreed on most of the major issues facing teachers, from workforce remodelling to pay and pensions.
We even had the bizarre sight of Doug McAvoy keenly embracing Mark Serwotka of PCS and looking to his union and others like it to create a unity of those prepared to defend their members, as opposed to those keen to be partners with Government.
As ever, there can be no guarantee that these fine words will be translated into deeds.
The National Executive elections just before Conference saw the ruling group retain control, though only just. Though they made tactical decisions to allow some militant positions to go through unchallenged, there is little doubt that they will use their influence on the Executive to ditch any commitments.
What could disrupt this plan is the election of an 'awkward' General Secretary. This was Doug McAvoy's last Conference as NUT leader, and he used his final address to delegates to attack other unions as the Government's unions, and proudly to defend the independence of the NUT.
His focus was particularly on the Workforce Agreement which has been signed by Unison, GMB, NASUWT and ATL, and an agreement on performance pay made between the Government and the other teacher unions which worsens our pay and conditions.
He was absolutely right on both counts, but he and his allies have no strategy for winning on these issues whereas the Conference clearly had. The election to replace McAvoy takes place in May and June of this year.
The choice is between two candidates who will basically follow McAvoy's record (Steve Sinnott and John Bangs), and the left candidate who argues for, and indeed helped develop most of the policies agreed at the conference (Ian Murch).
At a hustings session at Conference all candidates wanted to be seen as supporting the union's position on the Workforce Agreement. It was left to Ian to point out that the NUT leadership paved the way for this agreement when they called off successful action on workload in favour of setting up a joint working group with the government. It was this group that produced the Workforce Reform Agreement.
If Ian wins it will be much easier to fight for union policies to be implemented. If either Bangs or Sinnott win it is likely that they will re-enter talks claim that some minor concession is a major victory, and sign the Agreement.
The two major broad groups on the left (the Socialist Teachers Alliance and the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union) and the SWP have united behind the Murch campaign, though the Socialist Party is standing their own candidate.
There is plenty for NUT activists and members to do in the wake of Conference. On 19 June there is a major TUC demonstration to defend public sector pension rights. In every local area we need to work flat out to make this a huge success. On 26 June there is a local associations Conference on pay and conditions which every local branch should send delegates to. There is also a lot of work to do throughout May and June to get maximum support for Ian Murch in the GS election.
NUT became the latest union to support No Sweat when the Conference voted unanimously to affiliate. The theme of a No Sweat fringe meeting was solidarity with Iraqi trade unions. We can hope to get the support of NUT branches for this vital work.