In December, the government announced proposals for changing teachers’ pay arrangements.
The plan is to tear up national pay scales and move to a system of individualised pay. The current system includes national pay scales, though no right to collectively bargain on pay rates or conditions. The national rates must apply to all state schools, except academies and free schools which can adopt their own models.
This latest attack is partially a response to the fact that the vast majority of academies have agreed to follow the national system and showed no appetite for developing their own scales.
The overall thrust of the changes is to give immensely more power to individual heads to discriminate between staff.
Whereas new teachers can currently expect to move up a six-point pay scale automatically each year, under the new system this pay progression will be at the whim of the head.
Currently, teachers who move to jobs in other schools have an entitlement to the pay scale point they have reached during their years in the job. In future this entitlement will be abolished and we will be bargaining against fellow workers in a race to the bottom. More experienced teachers who are on the upper pay scale will be expected to take on extra responsibilities and will only get pay increases “at the school’s discretion, reflecting individuals’ differential contributions to the school”.
The immediate effect would be a huge increase in bullying, victimisation, and management control.
The longer-term effect would be to undermine the very high level of trade union organisation amongst teachers. Ensuring that there is a basic entitlement to specific pay for the job and minimum conditions for all is a core purpose of a trade union. If teaching unions, with over 90% membership density, cannot defend this entitlement then it won’t be clear to members what their purpose is.
This ought to be a very bad time for the Coalition to have picked this fight.
The two largest unions (NUT and NASUWT) have live ballots for strike action on pay. The dispute letter sent by the NUT to Michael Gove last year seeks an end to the pay freeze and a commitment to national pay arrangements.
Both unions, representing around 90% of teachers between them, can call national strike action with seven days’ notice. The fact that Gove has launched such a provocative attack on pay against the background of that dispute demonstrates his confidence that the two unions have no appetite for a fight. Unfortunately he appears to be right.
There may well be some industrial action in response to Gove’s plans this term but, on present indicators, it is likely to be fairly desultory protest action and even that is far from guaranteed.
However, there are things that school reps and activists can do to turn this situation round.
Throughout January the NUT will be holding meetings and rallies for reps which explain the pay threat and consult members on the level of support for a collective response.
As we go to press not all of the dates are known, but the London and Merseyside rallies are on 19 January, and the Yorkshire rally looks set for 26 January. The rank-and-file network LANAC will be mobilising for these meetings and arming reps with the arguments for urgent and effective action to defend national pay.
We need a plan of discontinuous rolling action combined with public campaigning which links the attack on pay and teacher unionism with the wider drive to privatise and break up state education.
Every school rep and active NUT member should find out where and when their pay meeting is to take place and ensure that the message to the union leadership is clear: we must defend national pay and we need an urgent plan of rolling strike action to do so.