On 1 April the NUT National Executive received the results of the ballot for a one day strike to protest at the continuing cuts in teachers’ real pay. When the result was known there was no hesitation in agreeing to call the action on 24 April. Indeed the vote to proceed with a strike was unanimous.
We now need to ensure that the first national teachers’ strike for 21 years is as successful as possible. All NUT members in all schools are asked to take part in the action. Every NUT member is now protected by this ballot and is fully entitled to take part.
Unions representing other teachers and support staff have made it clear at a local level that they will advise their members not to do any work on 24 April which would normally be done by NUT members. It is also illegal for supply agencies to allow their staff to be used to cover for teachers on strike.
Taking action will be effective no matter how strong the NUT is in any individual school. Teachers not yet in the NUT can join at a reduced rate at any time before 24 April and take part in the action.
24 April needs to be a day of visible protest and strength. In many schools union members are making their own banners. Every major town and city is likely to have a rally during the morning and these will be an opportunity to demonstrate the potential for a united public sector battle on pay. The biggest rally is likely to be at Central Hall Westminster in London, but major rallies will also take place in Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol amongst other places.
Most NUT branches are inviting speakers from the PCS, UCU and Unison to build links across the trade union movement and promote the idea of a generalised fight-back. It is very likely that UCU members in the Further Education sector will be on strike over pay on the same day and it is also possible that PCS members will be out. If over half a million public sector workers are on strike on 24 April the campaign for a united battle on pay will have received a tremendous boost. On 8 April Unison’s NJC for Local Government workers voted to recommend a rejection of yet another below-inflation offer for their members. It took months of determined campaigning to achieve this outcome last year, and even then a ballot for action was openly sabotaged by a leadership which did not want a fight. The difference this year is that another union has taken a lead and created a momentum which makes it harder for union leaders to avoid making a stand. We must keep that momentum going.
Having said all of that, 24 April will not be enough. Further action will certainly be needed and not only from the NUT. The rallies should hold indicative votes on further action and members attending should be encouraged to go back to their workplaces and argue for members of the other unions to join them in the fight. The unity of the day should be translated into local pay committees designed to keep local and national unions on a permanent war footing.
There is now a further significance of 24 April for NUT members. Tragically and suddenly, the Union’s General Secretary, Steve Sinnott died of a heart attack on 5 April. His death has stunned activists across the political spectrum in the Union.
He was politically a supporter of the Broadly Speaking group in the NUT whereas Workers Liberty teachers support the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) and Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU). Unlike his predecessor, however, he treated the left as people with a lot to contribute to the union.
He openly borrowed ideas and sought advice on tactics and strategy. He cleverly used the initiative and militancy of left-wing Executive members at a national branch secretaries’ meeting in January to enthuse and organise the more cautious and reluctant activists and convince them that action was possible. He treated his political opponents with respect and earned a good deal of respect from us in turn. His role in developing this campaign and building this strike was immense.
Many of us wanted it to happen earlier, but there were many at the top of the union who weren’t convinced it should happen at all. Steve Sinnott, as it turned out, wasn’t one of those. He played the decisive role in convincing doubters that action was necessary.
When he heard that Wales and the North East of England were reluctant to campaign fully for action he promptly took himself off to those areas to persuade and cajole them.
He could have used their caution to dampen and frustrate our militancy. Instead he used our confidence and militancy to shift the inertia and timidity. He was successful, and the yes vote shows that as it could not have been achieved without the involvement of all parts of the union and not just the traditional left-wing areas.
If he was still with us we could continue the argument about whether reducing the strike to one-day from “discontinuous” was too high a price to pay for that, and whether and how quickly we can move to a ballot for further action. He won’t be around for that debate, but every NUT activist I have spoken to feels that he deserves immense credit and respect for the role he played in putting our union in the forefront of the battle on public sector pay. The best tribute to that work is to make 24 April as big and energetic as possible.
• The University and College Union is currently balloting for strike action on 24 April. PCS members in the Department for Transport and maybe ofther departments are due to strike on 24 April, as are Birmingham council workers. Details of union rallies on 24 April at www.workersliberty.org/node/10385