The upcoming National Union of Teachers (NUT) strike against the government’s attacks on teachers pay, terms, and conditions on March 26 is a positive development, and the strike should be built for across the country.
There needs to be serious discussion about what to do on the day and, most importantly, what should follow on from this strike. These discussion must involve the members at every level of the union. NUT activists must link up with other workers fighting across the public sector.
One glaring issue that stands out in the latest strike announcement is that we appear to have another one-off protest action, when what we need is a serious campaign of sustained industrial action, with timetabled dates. That kind of campaign would declaration of intent to the government; a clear signal that we aim to win this industrial dispute.
On 19 February, workers and campaigners from the “3 Cosas” campaign of outsourced workers at the University of London spoke at a public meeting in Nottingham.
What struck me, amongst many other things, was how this small group of workers told their bosses in no uncertain terms that they intended to win the demands they had made – on pensions, on pay, on union recognition, and on holiday entitlements.
With bold intent, with democratic assemblies and forums rather than behind-closed-doors talks, and with the active involvement of the members, they have made tremendous gains.
Their actions and successes are in great contrast to the campaigns by the big public sector unions on pay, pensions, and conditions. Even the slogan of the campaign, “Stand Up for Education”, is woolly and ill-focused.
It is good that the NUT has at last abandoned the strategy of waiting for a green light from NASUWT, the more cautious and conservative of the main teaching unions, before taking any action. But the scale of the attack requires a response in kind. The NUT must lead a serious campaign of action, building over the coming months, linked up with any other unions, such as University and College Union, that are prepared to fight the Government.
It is time to end the culture of sporadic, one-day protest strikes. That strategy has won nothing and cannot defeat a government determined to ride out such limited resistance. The members must be involved at every stage of the action, not treated as a stage army, only good for waving flags and wearing union-branded t-shirts on strike days.
The union must set out clear and concrete demands, focused on retaining national pay and conditions of service. School managements across the country are already imposing school-based pay ahead of the official imposition of the new, school-by-school pay regime in September this year.
The union has to draw a line in the sand on pay in a way that it did not do over pensions. We must learn the lessons of the 3 Cosas campaign and the living wage campaign that preceded it: if a small group of workers can win gains against an employer that once refused to pay them a living wage, then a union with over 300,000 members can win serious gains against an unpopular government.
To do so it must get its boots on and put the members back in the saddle, running the campaign.