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NUT leaders dither as teachers lose out

By Bernie McAdam, Sandwell NUT

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) Conference this Easter made abundantly clear to its leaders that more national strike action was needed to stop the Coalition’s pensions attack. A successful motion called for regional strikes in the summer term, culminating in a national strike in June. Within weeks, however, the National Executive refused to name a date either for national or regional action.

Outrageously union lawyers ruled calls for action on 10 May “out of order” at conference. Then the executive refused to roll out regional strikes on that day based on negative reports from divisional secretaries.

This bureaucratic blocking leaves hundreds of thousands of health workers and civil servants taking strike action on pensions in May on their own.

Despite all the past rhetoric about getting cross-union action, the leadership has copped out of a brilliant opportunity to coordinate strikes. So much for the NUT boast that we are in the vanguard of the fight to save our pensions.

 

Lack of urgency

The lack of urgency is breathtaking given that all teachers as from April are now suffering a reduction in their take home pay as pension contributions rise whilst wages remain frozen. The creeping paralysis afflicting our leaders is all the more irksome considering the well-supported strike and 8,000 strong demonstration in London on 28 March.

The executive will reconsider the call for a national strike at their next meeting, ironically also on 10 May, but want to consult the Nasuwt (the other main teachers’ union) first. Whether Nasuwt agrees to support such action must not, however, become a precondition for the NUT to proceed. Indeed if the NUT had issued a clear call and set a firm date, that would have put tremendous pressure on Nasuwt to join in.

In an important move, an angry fringe meeting of 150 delegates at NUT conference called for a Local Associations for National Action conference in Liverpool on 16 June. All associations (branches) should send delegates and in the meantime bombard headquarters with resolutions calling for the resumption of national strike action.

 

Rank and file

It is vital that NUT rank and file activists debate and develop a strategy for victory. The leadership, despite its “left” credentials, has delayed, and then limited action. Its mentors in the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) talk of the need for “a clear overall war strategy” but then refuse to tell us how to win the war!

The NUT needs a grassroots movement that is not tied to the leadership and its policy of stringing out isolated days of action. Such a network needs to give a lead on how to fight back against the wide range of attacks on education and teachers. Strikes by teachers on terms and conditions, redundancies and academies, workloads and victimisation show that the new mood of militancy is not limited to pensions.

Our strategy will necessarily involve escalating action up to and including indefinite strikes. If the leadership is unwilling to lead, then we must develop the network at school and association level to build unofficial action – just like the electricians did in their successful fight against the construction giants. The forthcoming Liverpool conference could be a significant step in the direction of building such a network.

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