The National Union of Teachers conference at the Easter weekend voted to resume the suspended pensions action after the General Election. Speaker after speaker from the left and the Executive recognised that the Government may have pulled a fast one, offering talks only to avoid a confrontation before the election.
Prior to conference, most of the left had congratulated the Executive on forcing the Government to back down. They continued in the same vein in Gateshead, resulting in a rather bland debate as delegates bought into this odd unity fest.
Nevertheless action after the election is still a distinct possibility. The motion passed did not tie the executive down to a time-scale for holding the government to account, as proposed by Pat Murphy of the AWL, but it did state that action would be resumed and escalated if the government did not withdraw its proposals to increase the retirement age to 65 and reduce teachers’ pension entitlement.
Perhaps the most important decision of the weekend was a rule change on action ballots.
Now, as with other unions, 50% plus one of members voting, rather than of the total membership, is needed to win a ballot. The executive voted against the change, exposing their real attitude to action. The current rules make it extremely difficult to win a successful ballot for any action beyond a single day.
On Social Partnership, the craven nature of general secretary Steve Sinnott and the executive was again revealed. Sinnott hoped “the government can work with us to address the real concerns teachers feel”. He wants to use industrial action only as a last resort. The executive want to be treated as equal partners by a government which has frozen the union out of talks, threatened to undermine the qualified status of teachers with the introduction of cheap labour into the classroom, attacked their pay and conditions, and threatened to raise their pension age to 65!
Liam Conway, delegate from Notts and an AWL member, told the conference: “What we need is not Social Partnership but social solidarity with the other public sector unions” and with the parents and students in defence of comprehensive education and workers’ rights. “To get a teacher and a teaching assistant in every classroom. To achieve better pay, conditions and training for teachers and teaching assistants…we will have to confront Social Partnership.”
Conference voted in favour of strike action if the government should attempt to use support staff to teach whole classes. The resolution passed called for a moratorium on the remodelling proposals. Now the largest teaching union (NUT), the largest support workers’ union (Unison), and the largest headteachers’ union (NAHT) are all opposed to the Remodelling Agreement.
City Academies — a prime example of the real meaning of Social Partnership — were unanimously condemned by conference [more on back page].
The rule change makes it more difficult for the leadership to slide out from under the decisions made by angry delegates but, given past history, they will surely try.
Fortunately, despite their compliance in the suspension of the pensions strike ballot, the left recognised the need for real pressure from below to ensure that the executive delivers on pensions and Social Partnership. The new rank and file newspaper Campaign
Teacher has been successful both in uniting the left and gaining a real hearing in schools. It could well be the focus of united activity to ensure successful action after the election on a number of fronts.
On Iraq, the left refused to support an amendment calling for solidarity with the unions in Iraq. Both the leadership of the NUT and the majority of the left put their faith in the wrong forces: the leadership pin their hopes on the Blair government to sort out the problems of Iraq; the left wants to rely on the anti-working class “resistance”. The consequences of either strategy for the British working class will be very bad. For Iraqi workers it will be devastating.