Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), has been made a peer in the resignation honours list.
She follows other once-left union leaders into the halls of privilege, people like Hugh Scanlon, once left-wing leader of the engineering union (now part of Unite), who become Lord Scanlon soon after retiring from the union in 1979.
It’s a sad and telling milestone for the decay of the once-radical left in the union, which is now merged with the smaller ATL to form the National Education Union, NEU.
Christine Blower had a substantial record on the left of the NUT. Not just the usual Morning Star type “Broad Left”, but a more radical left.
She had been associated with the far-left group Big Flame, and she was prominent in the Socialist Alliance (a coalition of almost the whole radical left, including Workers’ Liberty) in 2000-3. When the SWP trashed the Socialist Alliance in 2003-04 in order instead to line up behind George Galloway in Respect. Blower refused to go with them, for left-wing reasons.
The NUT had been increasingly militant at rank and file level since the late 1960s, but run by a series of truculent old-style right-wing general secretaries (Edward Britton, Fred Jarvis, Doug McAvoy).
Blower challenged McAvoy for general secretary in 1999 and lost. She won deputy general secretary in 2005, against a candidate of the Morning Star Broad Left (which was increasingly becoming the right wing in the union).
In 2008 a new soft-right general secretary, Steve Sinnott, died unexpectedly, and Blower got the job.
Soon the ostensible radical left — the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance and the CDFU — had a clear majority at the top of the union.
Workers’ Liberty voted with the left in all those polls. But we warned that “the job… [is] to build the sort of genuine rank and file that can ensure that we don’t rely on the strengths and weaknesses of individual leaders to organise a militant and effectively organised union”.
Too true. The record of the supposedly radical left in the NUT and NEU since then has been no better than the record of the supposedly Marxist Socialist Party in its era of domination in the PCS civil service union.