Supporters of Socialist Resistance will be distributing this statement at this weekend’s conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
Conference takes place this year against the background of the most massive attack on education and the public sector since the Second World War. Under the guise of restoring the country’s finances, the Tory led coalition government is seeking to ‘slash and burn’ the welfare state. For education this is not just an attack on the provision of education through academies, free schools, UTLs etc., but also on the content of education, e.g. the National Curriculum review, EBACC, changes to ‘A’ levels, Early Years etc., as well as the pay and conditions of workers in the education sector.
One of the key debates at Conference this year will be how we respond to the attacks on our pay, centred on the Executive Priority Motion ‘Protecting Teachers – Defending Education’. The action of the Executive in reaching an agreement with the NASUWT represents a big step forward in uniting teachers in fighting the attacks on our pay. In reaching this agreement the Executive has had to accept a strategy of regional and national action rather than national action to start the campaign. In effect the Executive has said that the joint action with the NASUWT is more important that the NUT taking action on its own. Conference is being asked to endorse this strategy. Some in the union are arguing that we need to go further and take independent action.
The question we need to ask is why should we put this strategy of joint action at risk? The arguments being put forward are essential of the ‘we can be more militant that you’ type. One argument is that we need a national strike to start the campaign rather than a series of regional actions. In the abstract most of us would agree with this, and it was the position that the Executive took to the NASUWT. However, we do not live in an abstract world. The reality is that the NASUWT were not prepared to support this and for us to push it now after the joint agreement would give the NASUWT leadership a reason to mistrust our motives. Our overall aim in this campaign is to force the Government into a retreat on pay, pensions and workload but a secondary aim must be around our desire for one union for all teachers. Will a national strike by the NUT help this process? And we have to answer no, it will further divide the NUT from the NASUWT and therefore work against both our aims.
Another argument put forward by those who think the Executive Priority Motion doesn’t go far enough is that the NUT cannot surrender its power to take independent action to the NASUWT. Again, in the abstract we are all in favour of the NUT being able to take independent action. But we have to realise what this will mean in the concrete circumstances we face. If we think it is important to mobilise the majority of teachers in this campaign, then it is clear that the joint agreement is one way of doing that. If we think that an exemplary action by the NUT, a minority of the teaching force, will bring the rest of the teaching force to our banner, then we should take such action. However, we cannot assume the teachers in schools all over England and Wales think as we do. The evidence is that most members would feel better if the NASUWT were taking action with us. By not taking independent action at this moment does not mean that we are giving up our right to take such action as and when we, the NUT, decide to do so.
Conference needs to recognise that the Executive Priority Motion gives us a way forward that can unite the majority of teachers and we need to pass the motion and reject any attempts to push for independent action by the NUT at this time.