Statement from Workers' Liberty teachers on the NUT deputy general secretary election

Submitted by martin on 15 December, 2009 - 10:14 Author: Patrick Murphy and Liam Conway for Workers' Liberty Teachers

It would be better if the individuals and groups who define themselves as left in the Union could agree to support common candidates in national elections. It will be important in the period ahead to consolidate the small majority the left has gained on the national executive and avoid the prospect of Broadly Speaking regaining either the Executive or the GS or DGS positions. Just as important is the need to build a clearer, sharper, more determined left which acts collectively on the key issues facing members, particularly those which require us to mobilise members for action.

It would have been better if the left had been able to agree a joint candidate in the DGS election. Where the STA and CDFU have not been able to reach agreement we have always favoured the use of a process which would be democratic and representative.

For some years now, we have argued for hustings and selection meetings with invitations to all left-supporting branches. There can be various ways of identifying or agreeing what is meant by left-supporting branches but working definitions would include all those who sponsor Campaign Teacher and all those who nominated Ian Murch (or Ian and Martin Powell-Davies) for General Secretary in the GS election before last.

Too often, however, we have to live with the circumstances where there is not an agreed candidate. Where the reason for that is the decision of a particular socialist organisation to pursue a different path (SP, SWP, AWL, etc.) it is a matter of judgement whether the broader left gives any support or endorsement. Where reason is a failure to achieved agreement between the two broader groups (the STA and CDFU) it is a different matter.

A single transferable vote system operates in NUT elections where we elect more than one candidate or where there are more than two candidates for one post. The normal practice has been to ensure that, whatever our differences about which is the best candidate, we preserve a mutual support against those who would take the union away from industrial militancy and possibly towards social partnership. We don't present ourselves as neutral between any STA or CDFU candidate and an opponent from Broadly Speaking. Not only is this important as a way of making electoral success more likely, it is even more important as a political message to our members and activists.

As supporters of Kevin Courtney's campaign to be elected as DGS in 2010 we are therefore disappointed that he has chosen to break with that practice. Kevin and his immediate 'advisers' appear to have decided not to call for a second preference vote for Hazel Danson in the forthcoming election.

It isn't possible to reply to all of the arguments used to rationalise this decision, for the very good reason than none of us (and very few others) have heard what they are. This decision has been subject to very little discussion. It certainly can't be said to represent in any meaningful way the views of STA members and will disappoint many activists and branches who otherwise support his campaign.

The arguments some of us have heard are, for the most part, ridiculous and beside the point. Far more important than narrow technical electoral calculations (which in any case we believe to be entirely spurious) are matters like left unity and the future of crucial joint initiatives like Campaign Teacher. If, on the other hand, this decision is motivated by irritation that the CDFU would not agree a joint candidate selection process, it is no less unjustified.

We too argued for a joint candidate and for the representative association/division-based process described above. We too believe that it was a mistake not to agree it. The CDFU have traditionally had misgivings about the strength and electability of candidates who emerge from left-wing 'beanfeasts'. We are confident that a process involving divisions and associations on the broadest possible basis would have avoided this problem and that, in any case, Kevin and Hazel were both credible candidates.

But pique at the failure to agree a process and a candidate is just that- pique. It is not a reason for petty point-scoring which could, in the end damage the overall aims of the NUT left whether in this election or beyond.

If it is not too late we appeal to Kevin and his campaign to rethink and reverse this decision and call for a second preference for Hazel just as she has committed to do for him. In any case we will argue in our associations and divisions for mutual support between the two left candidates and urge all activists to do the same.

Finally we believe that decisions like this are far too important to be left to a few self-chosen people. There was no indication at any stage previously that calling for second preferences would be a problem. If anyone believed the issue was contentious they should have raised it earlier and in the broadest forum possible.

We repeat, this isn't just a technical matter with implications for this election, it is a matter of the culture and purpose of the left as a whole. Election campaigns are either the concern and property of all or they are mere vanity projects.


Patrick Murphy and Liam Conway for Workers' Liberty Teachers


Submitted by Mark on Sun, 17/01/2010 - 15:39

Sure, the second preference question is not unimportant. But what about Kevin Courtney's manifesto?
I've got a little experiment for socialist teachers: pass the manifesto booklet round staffroom, among teachers who are not 'in the know' (i.e. most teachers). Ask them to pick out the left candidate.
I did this in my maths office. Most of them hadn't a clue. One picked Danson - as far as I could tell this was because her manifesto is the longest (and ordinary teachers believe left-wing = long-winded).
The fact is Kevin C's statement is opportunistic rubbish.
For example he fails to mention: the election, the economic crisis, New Labour, the Tories, the union laws, tax policy (who should pay for education: the rich), union democracy, the pay of union officials (no clause where he says he'll take a teachers' wage), let alone any of the international questions he and the kitsch left hold so dear.
All we have is a bit of fluff common to all the manifestos (we should have decent pensions etc). Stuff no-one can disagree with. No detail of how to fight for these things.
The result is even probably counterproductive: in an effort not to offend any potential voters he gives no-one any good reason to vote for him.
Clearly being left wing is something for meeting rooms in ULU, not something to carry out to the whole membership and argue for. And this sort of opportunism doesn't bode well for the future. If he's opportunistic when he's standing, what will he do when he's elected?
Very poor.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 17/01/2010 - 17:48

That's why I wrote
"However neither left candidate has put such demands to the fore of their campaign (indeed one would be hard pressed to see any difference between them and the right candidate Martin Reed purely in terms of their electoral addresses). The reason for this is simple. Both left groupings in the NUT, the STA and the CDFU, have pursued a strategy based on maximising votes in elections, winning positions in the union and for the left to dominate the bureaucracy. We should be sharply critical of this electoralist strategy"
and concluded

"Despite this however this is an important battle. If the rightwing candidate is elected then union democracy, already attenuated will be even more reduced. But we also need to use this campaign to argue that the current left strategy of electioneering, concentrating almost exclusively on getting 'left' candidates elected, is not the way forward. he left in the NUT, th emore active associatons, as well as socialist groupings all support either Courtney or Courtney and Danson. We argue that they may be right to do so insofar as it goes but what is really needed is getting organised in the workplaces and a netowrk of rank and file activists to make sure that our union can really create change by linking with direct action by parents, students and workers against attacks."

In the end, it is most important to form these rank and file groupings but I think that is best served by calling for a vote for Courtney 1 and Danson 2, using the elections to mobilise members to vote but more importantly to support action and get connected. This is better I think than calling for no vote or spoilt ballot which would be ultraleft.

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 20/01/2010 - 09:37

One of Mark's points (which I agree with) is that this is not a very good way of maximising votes in elections!

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