While the agenda for National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference 2013 seemed very inward looking, the actual debates and decisions marked a significant step in committing the NUT to a fight against the politics of austerity peddled by the Tory led Coalition Government. Jon Duveen reports.
The most hotly debated motion was one from the Executive supporting the joint agreement with the NASUWT. This agreement means that the majority of teachers will be part of a campaign in defence of our pay and pensions, against any increase in our workload and against any funding cuts that will lead to redundancies and cuts in provision. The agreement calls for a series of regional strikes, starting on June 27th in the North West of England, and spreading over September and October leading to a national strike before Xmas. Alongside this there are to be joint rallies in all the major cities of England and Wales to mobilise teachers, parents, governors and trades unionists against the Governments attacks on education and teachers.
Whilst the timetable was slower than most of the NUT wanted it was probably more than the NASUWT were initially prepared to commit to. It is an historic agreement in that for the first time since the two unions separated, over the issue of equal pay, there is a commitment to a joint campaign. This agreement means that the majority of the teaching force is committed to a campaign against the Government over aspects of its austerity policies. For some of the left of the NUT, the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Workers Liberty, this agreement was not enough. They sought to add into the Executive’s motion a call for a national strike on June 26th. It was the debate around this amendment that generated the most heat at this year’s conference. For us in Socialist Resistance the strategic direction of the joint agreement was more important than a one day national strike of the NUT. For some on the left the need to be more ‘left wing’ than the Executive was more important than the joint agreement. The supporters of the one day strike generated a lot of heat during the debate but not much light. The defence of the Executive’s motion was left to some of the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) leadership and ourselves. At the end of the debate the Executive’s motion was supported by over 2 to 1. The task now for all members of the NUT is to make sure that bare bones of the joint agreement is given real flesh over the next few months.
The debate over facility time also generated a lot of discussion. The issue here was not about a defence of facility time but what to do if Local Authorities (LA) removed facility time as has been done in a few areas. One side of the debate argued that in these circumstances the union should pay for the facility time for Divisional Secretaries. On the other side the argument was that if this was done in one area then soon every LA would stop funding facility time and soon this would affect all the unions in the public sector. The debate on this amendment was the last debate of conference and the only debate that needed a card vote. In the card vote the supporters of the NUT not paying for facility time won by almost 2 to 1.
Other debates were much more consensual with very few speakers or voters against. A Priority Motion on Immigration making it clear that the NUT ‘condemns the attempts by politicians to scapegoat immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees for the economic problems of Britain’, was carried unanimously after an amendment defending the ‘rights of all children and their families, regardless of immigration status, to have access to social housing, welfare services and in particular the NHS, free at the point of need’, was passed. This allows the NUT locally to get involved in a range of campaigns defending immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
The motion on the Crisis in Education committed the union to building a National Campaign for Education (NCE) and urged local union groups to build ‘local school conferences’ to help develop the NCE locally.
Conference was addressed by both Mark Serwotka and Owen Jones who both stressed the need to get involved with the more general campaign against austerity, with Owen stressing the need for the NUT to get involved with the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.
Overall the Conference moved the NUT to the left. It aligned the union to build on its strategic policy of working with the NASUWT; it moved the union to defend immigrants from attack; it sought to build a national campaign for education; it agreed to clear class size guidelines, etc. However, although austerity and the fight against it formed the backdrop of the Conference, the issues of an alternative economic strategy and of poverty were not discussed. What was also clear from the debate on the joint agreement was that some of the left were still within a ‘more left than you’ framework and were unable to see that in a strategic sense the unity with the NASUWT was a massive gain for the NUT