Once again this year I feel the same way and so I make the argument that the time for planning is long over. We need a firm strategy based on the fundamental belief and principle that we must stand like the mighty oak, with deep buried roots, strong enough to withstand even the most savage winds of change.
This year’s Saturday afternoon session felt different. This year it felt that we might just be bold enough to establish a set of demands that would make Gove sit up and take notice of our intent but, more importantly, would galvanise rank and file members who are not always clear what our ultimate goals are in this dispute.
What was proposed by the Local Associations National Action Campaign, a grass roots group set up two years ago to argue the case for rank and file NUT members, was a clear set of demands and a clear strategy of action:
- Abolish OFSTED and league tables
- Create a more productive working environment by giving teachers 20% PPA time so that they have time to plan stimulating lessons and have time to mark accurately and with depth
- End Performance Related Pay, a system that has been shown to have no beneficial effects when introduced in other educations systems around the world
- Teachers should be allowed to retire on a full pension at 60, not at 68 as proposed by the current Government
- An immediate £2,000 increase at each point of the payscale. This would begin to compensate for the 15.3% devaluation of teachers’ pay over the last 4 years
- a 48 hour strike in the Summer term
- two further 48 hour strikes in the two half terms before Christmas
- a escalating scale of national action in 2015
We in the NUT, and the wider teaching profession, know what Gove has done to our education system so far and it doesn’t need a fortune teller on Brighton Pier to prophesise what is to come whether Gove himself is still in place after 2015 or whether the baton is taken up by Tristram Hunt.
One of my historical heroes, Gerard Winstanley wrote in 1649:
Action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing
So teaching colleagues, let’s end talk of strategy and let’s act.
Did the Diggers of 1649 spend their time strategising? No, they tilled the land in spite of the landlords. Did those brave comrades at Tolpuddle sit under the sycamore tree and strategise? No, they swore an oath of union. Did our sisters in the Suffragette movement sit drinking tea and strategising? No, they took to the streets and engaged in civil disobediance, some even paying a fatal price for their cause
The LANAC proposal offers us a clear plan of action and through it we can engage rank and file members. Whilst our March 26th national strike was a great success and show of unity let’s not fool ourselves that we had a solid response from our whole membership. This is an issue that we in the NUT and other unions have to tackle because our brave comrades in the NUM had a clear name for those who broke strike action back in 1984. Out of respect for some colleagues, of fainter soul, who might read this I’ll not repeat it here but I feel the same about colleagues who break strike action as those miners did 30 years ago. At least with a clear caldendar of strike action in place we can state to our members that this is our plan of action and we expect nothing but unwavering support.
Whilst it is right that we seek to engage in meaningful talks with any Government we must reserve that most fundamental of trade union rights, the right to withdraw our labour. It is a right we must be prepared to exercise, either in cooperation with our sister teaching unions, or as we stand alone.
Our comrade from the RMT told the fringe meeting that our brothers and sisters in that union realised that one day strikes every few months do just turn into protest actions. They reconciled that an outlined action plan of 2 and 3 day strikes immediately begins to see movement from the bosses and the Government. Whilst we do not wish to be viewed as a striking profession we must be prepared to take such action as part of a sustained plan. As our comrade, the late Bob Crow, so rightly said:
You don’t win every fight you take on, but you do lose every fight you don’t take on.
So next year, in Harrogate, I hope the NUT Conference will spend Saturday afternoon debating other matters.
As Marx said:
The philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point is to change it.
Although the LANAC amendment was defeated at Conference I did not feel disheartened. This was just a beginning of a strategy to really move forward our campaign. Whilst we seek to defend the education system that we take pride working within we must not be afraid to stand up for our own rights and working conditions.
No more philosophising. Let’s force a change.