NUT and NASUWT launch joint campaign
By Bernie McAdam, Sandwell NUT
Teachers’ unions NUT and NASUWT have announced a joint campaign to defend pensions and protect pay, working conditions and jobs. Teachers will be balloted both for strike action and action short of strike to be taken in the autumn term “should the government refuse to listen”. As yet no clear objectives have been agreed apart from vague calls for a joint campaign on the above issues.
Any action to stop the attacks raining down on teachers is to be welcomed. However, these union leaders have not exactly distinguished themselves to date in the fight to protect our pensions. NUT leaders have disregarded conference decisions to hold regional strikes this term, which were meant to culminate in a national strike in June.
The pension changes have already been enacted, with reductions in take home pay now hitting teachers hard. Union leaders sense a defeat has already occurred, with the focus now shifting to pay and conditions. They have no one to blame but themselves.
Escalate the action
Why has the largest teachers’ union the NUT failed to give a fighting lead on the pensions struggle? Quite simply it has not fought for a strategy that can win. Such a strategy must involve a campaign of escalating national strike action up to and including indefinite strikes. NUT leaders have delayed even limited action, and their long strung-out isolated days of strike action pose no real threat to the government’s austerity plans.
As we prepare to go into action next term the NUT must not use the joint initiative with the NASUWT as a millstone around our necks. Action must be organised on the basis of what is necessary to win and not on what is acceptable to the lowest common denominator.
The upcoming Local Associations for National Action Conference in Liverpool on 16 June will no doubt express the anger many NUT activists feel over the recent dithering by its leaders. However, it must be able to give a lead on how to fight back against the wide-ranging attacks on education. For this it will have to argue for a campaign of escalating action with clearly defined objectives.
Rank and file movement
The Liverpool conference will no doubt decide to maintain a network of activists intent on taking national strike action. The network needs to go beyond local association delegates and teacher reps to include school groups and rank and file members. It will have to organise independently of the leadership if it is to be capable of organising an effective and alternative way forward whenever the leaders back down. Refusal to call action next time around must be met with unofficial strikes.
A real rank and file movement would democratically overhaul the union. It would fight for strikes to be decided by the members at local, regional and national level, linking up with rank and file NASUWT members.
Strike committees under the control of mass meetings should determine the way forward, not arbitrary executive control. All officials and union representatives should be elected and subject to recall. They should be paid the average wage of a classroom teacher.
A grassroots movement should also build cross-union support for the defence of education. A movement of all education workers should be the aim, reaching out to the whole working class community, and involving parents and students. We already know that successful struggles against academies depend on support from parents and students.
The inability of trade union leaders to win the battles against austerity demands a new form of trade unionism. It means a political fight to turn our unions into democratic fighting organisations, and a fight to build councils of action that go beyond the limits of pure trade unionism.
It also poses the question of a new working class party that can represent and lead the class as a whole towards a socialist society, where a fully funded quality education system is a right, not a privilege.