No matter what happens at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference (29 March-2 April), delegates will return home with the task of preparing members for strikes.
But the NUT leadership’s current plan, jointly agreed with NASUWT and beginning with a regional strike on 27 June, is vague and uninspiring.
It’s far too late to have any meaningful effect on the plan to tear up national pay scales, which take effect from 1 September. Despite these plans being announced in December and well known before that, we will have taken no action of any kind before the end of June, and even then we start not with a huge show of national strength but with a regional strike.
It’s also far too little to make any real impact on Gove and the Coalition government. By the first time they feel the effects of any national strike action at all national scales will be no more, the third and final pension contribution increase will be around the corner and all the details of the “pay more, work longer, get less” pension scheme will be finalised.
Rolling action which combines national and more selective strike action can be an effective way to maximise our impact and minimise the demands on members. To start with regional action and leave unified national action to the end, however, makes no sense.
The whole plan has been designed from the top down taking little or no account of the express views of members.
Whether in surveys, pay rallies, annual conference or local associations, members have repeatedly indicated their willingness to support urgent strike action to defend pay and pensions. This view, however many times expressed, has been ignored and written off as unrepresentative.
The NUT leadership have moved dramatically from a belief that NASUWT involvement is desirable (we agree) to one where it is in effect a condition of NUT action. That’s not the public position but it’s the only way to make sense of the NUT leaders’ decision making since 2011.
As a result of all of the above we have an action plan which has no clear focus, aims or logic. There is a huge gap between its professed objectives (to oppose the pay and pensions attacks) and the real agenda (to stage occasional protests against the government in the run-up to an election in the hope that the problems go away).
At the NUT conference, supporters of the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) will be pushing for an alternative strategy — although, as the old joke goes, “we wouldn’t have started from here”.
Despite the mess, it is still possible to agree a more effective and purposeful campaign of action to confront these attacks. LANAC will be demanding that conference declares the 27 June strike a national action rather than a regional one, and that dates for regional and national strikes in the autumn are announced as soon as possible.
Whatever plans come out of conference, LANAC supporters will be working hard to make actions as strong as possible. But if the NUT wants to defeat the government’s attacks rather than register a meek protest, it needs to change course.
This text was adapted from an article that will appear in the LANAC bulletin for NUT conference.