The one day strike called by the National Union of Teachers (NUT)joined by the Further Education section of University and College Union (UCU) was the first national strike by the NUT since 1985, the year of the great miners’ strike. The intervening period was an era of retreat and defeat for many sections of the trade union movement. The strike, of course, had immediate causes, rising inflation and wage settlements for the previous two years below the rate of inflation. Also the increasingly heavy management pressure on teachers derived from the endless targets imposed on school staff. However the strike would never have been called without a long fight by the NUT left, the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) and the smaller Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic Union (CDFU) for more militant policies. For many years the annual NUT Conference held at Easter had passed often with very large majorities resolutions committing the union to industrial action on pay, conditions and performance management but these were regularly ignored by the NUT Executive. The Broad Left (now called Broadly Speaking!!), historically an alliance of Labour Left and Communist teachers, has dominated the NUT Executive for the last two or three decades regularly stifling calls for action.
Three or four years ago the Broadly Speaking divided over issues connected with the views of the ex-General Secretary Doug McEvoy and the balance of power on the NUT Executive became more fluid. The success of the strikes around the London teacher’s allowance indicated a growing militancy in the ranks of the NUT and a new generation of STA supporters were elected onto the Executive. This shift in the balance of power on the NUT Executive meant that in 2007/8 the right wing were not able to block industrial action.
Despite this shift the overwhelming vote of the 2007 NUT Conference for strike action to resist the below inflation pay deal (2.45% 2007/8, 2.3% for the next two years) the manoeuvres on the Executive delayed the strike to the following year.
The 24th April was a great success but only partial in some areas, over half the schools closed in Birmingham, 90% NUT members on strike in Liverpool and a very solid strike in London and many other areas. But a fair proportion of NUT members did not strike especially in certain rural areas. Despite the partial nature of the strike many impressive rallies were held usually in cooperation with others unions such as UCU, PCS, and the CWU. In Birmingham a particularly impressive rally of 3,000 was held jointly with council unions, UNISON, GMB, UNITE and others who were on strike on the Single Status issue.
At a well attended STA National Coordinating meeting on the 26th April (two days after the strike) it was agreed unanimously to push for a one day strike in the Summer term although there was vacillation on the part of some in the meeting. The view was that it was essential to maintain the momentum of the pay campaign but there were obviously difficulties given the Summer term is dominated by exams and the prospect of the summer holidays. It would have been ideal if the NUT had joined the local council workers strike on the 16th/17th July. A series of NUT Executive meetings in May and June ducked the chance of a summer strike with only a small minority supporting this action.
The Executive was however united on continuing the industrial in the Autumn term balloting for discontinuous action will be starting on Monday 6th October. The prospects for the national ballot seem good given the accelerating inflation figures, RPI 5% and CPI 4.4% July 2008. Also the ballot is for discontinuous action unlike the previous ballot which was for a one day strike only. So a series of actions can be organised by the NUT without reference to further ballots.
Finally an indication of the hard line the employers will take is the reply form the School Teachers’ Review Body to a claim by the NUT for a reconsideration of the 2.3- 2.45% pay award. In the imposed deal if the inflation is above 3.25% then the award can be re-considered but despite inflation being way above this level the Review Body replied that because the vacancy rate for teachers was low the market (the god for New Labour) does not justify a higher award!!