The National Union of Teachers Executive meets on 28 February to consider the next steps in the campaign to defend national pay.
By the time Solidarity is published, the outcome should be known. The key issue is whether and when the union is prepared to strike to oppose government proposals to move to individualised pay. At two recent Executive meetings, proposals to call strikes on specific dates were defeated. In January, a proposal to strike on 13 March fell by only two votes. The policy that was carried, however, stated that the February meeting would decide on national strike action to take place in the summer term.
In the last two months a series of pay meetings have taken place across England and Wales, led for the most part by the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary. By far the largest was a meeting of over 200 in London in January which overwhelmingly voted for strikes to start in March and be part of a planned series of actions. Meetings in Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Coventry, and another in London repeated that pattern. A second survey of 10,000 random members and 5,000 young members found very strong support for strike action, even if the NUT was acting alone, from both groups. Those who voted against urgent action quibbled about the small return from these surveys but the fact is that every measure of membership opinion since the pay proposals were announced has shown clear support for strike action.
As ever the major factor holding the NUT back is the fact that the other major teachers’ union, NASUWT, are showing no sign of a willingness to take joint co-ordinated action with us, despite a live joint campaign of action short of strikes over workload and observations. Their participation would make a huge difference, especially outside London where they are close to, and sometimes bigger than, the NUT. Many months have been spent trying to win them to a programme of action to defend pay but it will be clear to every Executive member by 28 February that they are simply not up for it. As the new pay arrangements are due to come into effect in September and will need to be legislated for in the next few months it makes no sense to delay our response any longer. More than that we are still in dispute about the government’s pension proposals. With the second round of contribution increases due on 1 April now is the time to return to action on that issue linked to national pay.
The debate at the Executive will hopefully be between different strike dates rather than no action at all. It may be that supporters of the rank-and file-network, LANAC, re-table the proposal for action on 13 March or on budget day (20 March). The date favoured by the union leadership at the last Executive appeared to be 27 June. There is some possibility that, under the pressure of local meetings and member responses and in the knowledge that waiting for the NASUWT is no longer relevant, an earlier summer date will be proposed as well as 27 June. That would be real progress, though the failure of the second largest teachers union to respond properly to this threat is a major problem.
In a further indication of the mood of members, a recent Executive by-election fought directly on this issue was won comfortably by a LANAC supporter. The Merseyside and Cheshire seat was won by Pete Glover of Liverpool who defeated Beth Purnell (of the “Broadly Speaking” faction). The significance of this victory has been underplayed on parts of the left on the grounds that Pete simply regained a seat held by fellow left-winger and LANAC supporter, Julie Lyon Taylor. But this is a two seat constituency and in the past the right-wing candidate has topped the poll. So to win in a straight fight is an important shift.
Beth Purnell’s material argued that “now is not the time for knee-jerk policies, nor is the time for the NUT to act alone”, whereas Pete’s stated clearly that “our hesitation on pensions has invited further attacks…no more wavering. Nominate a fighting Executive member. No more retreats on pensions and pay”. In a three-horse race, two LANAC-supporting candidates won 67% of the vote with Pete taking the seat after transfers from Cheshire West and Chester secretary, Greg Foster. Pete asked members in his area to “send a clear message to your union. No more half-measures and decision”. The members responded as he expected. It is to be hoped that the Executive gets the message.