NUT: local associations conference sets up new teachers’ network
Local Associations for National Action Conference (LANAC) was held in Liverpool on Saturday and was attended by 110 delegates from over 30 NUT Associations. Bernie McAdam, Sandwell NUT reports.
The conference was a marvellous response to the failure of the National Executive to organise further strike action this term. Earlier in the year a minority of the Executive had opposed this dithering and two large fringe meetings at NUT conference had launched this rank and file initiative to express widespread anger at the climbdown.
The conference had a variety of speakers that united on a common theme, which was the need for further national action on pensions. Patrick Murphy led the discussion in the morning commenting that the network ‘was a model of how to react when things go badly’. Many others spoke of how angry their members had been at the lack of strike action and how woeful the leadership’s ‘strategy’ of long, strung out days of action was.
A key discussion around the union’s recently announced joint campaign with the NASUWT was had. Alex Kenny from the Executive was attempting to lull us all into a false sense of security by urging support for the National Executive ‘when it gets it right’ as with its joint campaign and ballot.
This didn’t go down too well with the conference with many delegates pointing out that such a joint campaign needs to deliver action not cosy chats between the union tops and how we should not be constrained in our action by the NASUWT.
Conference was well aware that it will take a concerted effort by all to win a ‘yes-yes’ vote on non-strike action on workload, and on strike action in the autumn term. Indeed one without the other is just not an option. It does provide us with a real opportunity to build the joint campaign from below reaching out to rank and file NASUWT members, however recalcitrant their leaders might be in organising such joint initiatives.
Many speakers stressed the positive side to the joint campaign and the prospect of more action. This is understandable and obviously the network has exerted a certain amount of pressure already. One speaker urged us not to complain but let’s ‘take the campaign forward’.
Yes, let’s take ownership of the campaign but let’s not fool ourselves that the leadership have suddenly changed their spots. They will sell out at the earliest opportunity, either by continuing their isolated days of action or by using the NASUWT or a low ballot turnout as an excuse to limit the action. They will organise protests but not action that will win.
An amendment from Dave Harvey, Croydon sought to bind the network to recalling a conference with the editorial board of ‘Campaign Teacher’. This was heavily defeated as it would effectively be a lash up with the very National Executive members involved in opposing previous action! The network has quite correctly got different aims.
Delegates were clear that the leadership had no strategy for winning and the majority passed an amendment to the main statement from Martin Powell Davies calling for ‘an escalating programme of national action, starting from as early as possible in the autumn term, and continuing beyond, including strike action of more than one day’s duration’.
However this was a far weaker formulation than the defeated amendment from Greenwich delegates, which called for ‘a national three day strike early in the autumn term (third week) and leading to longer stoppages’. Clearly an urgent turn to a new strategy of longer stoppages up to and including an indefinite strike is the only kind of action that can defeat the government.
LANAC unanimously agreed a statement committing itself to building a network of local associations and school reps that work at every level for the earliest return to collective industrial action. A website would follow and a further Local Associations Conference would meet next term. All this represents a step forward but we need to become something more than a pressure group within the union.
It is not merely a question of how best we can lobby and put pressure on the Executive. Nor should we be there just to react ‘when things go badly’. It is imperative we build a grassroots rank and file movement, like the sparks have done, that can both argue for a winning strategy as well as ensure that the membership have the democratic means to control the action.
In this sense the agreed statement was inadequate. Of course future conferences provide opportunities to move in a rank and file direction but LANAC needs to open out to school groups and individual militants, as well as support staff in other unions, thus deepening its rank and file base.
Much more to the point were the proposals put forward on the Permanent Revolution leaflet to conference in which LANAC should be built with the following objectives:
- All officials and union representatives should be elected and recallable.
- All officials should be paid the average wage of the classroom teachers they represent.
- Rule 8 should be abolished. NUT members at local and regional level must be the ones to decide when and how to take action not the executive or the officials, whose role should be to endorse and support such actions.
- All struggles should be controlled by union members through strike committees and mass meetings.
- The union should represent classroom teachers not management. Head teachers should be denied membership of the union.
Rooting itself in school NUT groups, such an organisation would:
- Organise independently of the official apparatus of the union when necessary.
- Build itself through action, if necessary organising its own strikes when the leadership refuses to sanction action.
- Recognise the need to defy the anti-trade union laws wherever they restrict the union’s ability to take effective militant action.
- Fight to build one union in the education sector.
Militants in the NUT should support these objectives with a view to transforming the union into a democratic fighting body that serves our interests and not the bureaucracy. The inability of the present crop of trade union leaders to win the battles against austerity demands a new strategy, a new form of trade unionism. LANAC is a positive development which should be part of that fight.