This Saturday December 8th the network of NUT branches (known as divisions or associations) which was established in response to the retreat in the pensions struggle earlier in the year will hold its second national conference in Leicester. Local Associations for National Action (LANAC) emerged in March last year after the NUT National Executive voted to call off a planned national strike due to take place on March 28th despite 73% of members voting for the strike in a union survey. As feared by the activists and branches that launched the network, that was the end of pensions action for the foreseeable future.
LANAC attracted over 100 delegates to two hastily organised fringe meetings at NUT Conference last Easter and there was a strong mood for setting up a formal and more lasting network. The organisation was officially launched at a national conference in Liverpool on June 16th with statement calling for a return to national action but this time as part of a planned action strategy to win. What was particularly impressive and new about LANAC was that it was rooted in the divisions and associations of the union with delegates to the founding conference representing organisation on the ground. This is a crucial break from the usual pattern across the trade union movement of self-selecting, politically defined ‘left’ organisations. That such an approach could mobilise over 100 delegates to its inaugural conference was a sign of something new and refreshing in the fifth largest union in the TUC.
The Leicester conference will focus heavily on the progress made so far in the NUT’s joint action short of strike action with NASUWT. The opening plenary will hear from school reps at the sharp end of the battle to fight excessive workload, observation and micro-management. The NUT reps from Stratford Academy in Newham, Deptford Green in Lewisham and Bishop Challoner in East London will set the scene for an assessment of the action with accounts of how their willingness to escalate to strike action has won improvement for members. The conference will also look at whether and how we can revive the fight against the pension proposals now going through Parliament with barely a whimper from the unions. In fact the more likely spark for further national strike action by teachers will be the imminent announcement by Michael Gove on teachers’ pay. He is due to respond to the School Teachers’ Review Body Report and there is every chance he will propose some version of regional pay and an extension of performance-related pay. A special session at the Leicester conference will outline the likely proposals and consider how an industrial action response can be mobilised which learns from the weaknesses of the pensions campaign.
Finally the conference will see a session on the future of the union in the light of the growth of academies and the attack on facilities time. There is a general consensus in the NUT that it should remain a lay-led union with local negotiations controlled by elected local teachers released from the job. The existing systems for delivering this are, however, under relentless attack. Ensuring we have an effective union led by members means more rank and file activity, more democracy and a greater focus on workplace reps.
Crucially it also poses the question of one union for all school workers. Bargaining across thousands of workplaces is difficult enough without the problem of workers being in as many as six separate unions. At Leicester delegates will have a chance to discuss this as well as the immediate threats to pay and pensions.