A special meeting of the National Executive of the National Union of Teachers has confirmed a national strike will take place on 26 March.
Unfortunately, the other main teaching union, the NASUWT, has decided not to strike on the pretext that it wants to give talks with the Department for Education a chance. The small Welsh-speaking union UCAC also pulled out of the action with the same excuse.
But the Department for Education have made it very clear that these will not deal with the issues at the heart of the teachers’ dispute. They will only discuss the implementation of policies, and “policies which have already been determined”. The raising of the retirement age to 69, and the end of final salary pensions and automatic annual pay progression, are not up for discussion.
Unsurprisingly NUT Executive concluded was that there had been minimal progress in talks and certainly nothing to justify the suspension of the strike. The union has conducted two surveys in the last two weeks to measure support for the strike; the survey of 10,000 members showed very strong support for the strike.
The recommendation from national officers was that the strike proceed and no-one argued any differently.
The idea that unions have to choose between action and talking is a nonsense. The NUT have been to all the talks and will continue to attend while they take strike action on 26 March. The refusal of other teacher unions to co-ordinate with the biggest organisation is the biggest help Gove could hope for
But what happens after 26 March? A well-supported strike may force the NASUWT to reconsider their position? Whether this dispute involves both unions or just the NUT, however, it cannot win or produce really significant concessions on the basis of very occasional one day strikes.
Since 2012 the Local Associations National Action Campaign has argued for an escalating programme of action designed to win the dispute or force significant concessions. Public campaigning, street stalls, rallies and meetings needs to be backed up with a serious industrial strategy. This continues to be the only way to revive the dispute and give real hope to the tens of thousands of teachers who will strike on 26 March.
The attacks on teachers by government have increased since the 2011 pensions proposals. There have been changes to national pay arrangements and the huge expansion of academies. The NUT and the other teacher unions need to be clear what they are demanding.
Some useful work has been done to develop demands which would stretch the talks on implementation.
We need to address some of the core issues such as national pay, pension age and excessive workload. To restore national pay rates, reduce the unsustainable workload, and ensure that these things apply to all state-funded schools, it will be necessary to draw up a clear set of demands.
A fight for a national contract, campaigned for with teachers and the public, could become a tool for breathing new energy and clarity into a long-running dispute.
The NUT Executive will meet again on 3 April to start discussion on the next steps in the campaign; it will put a priority motion to the union’s conference at Easter.
We need to make sure solid strategy is put on the agenda at Easter.