The Tory government plans to abolish national pay scales for teachers.
The first thing the unions need to do is to get a proper grip on the gravity of the attack. So far they haven’t done this. The national officers’ report on pay in December talked of militancy being dampened by Heads promising to continue as before. It described the fight to defend national pay as a long-term battle and, tellingly, one of the strategies listed was to develop new action guidelines to persuade schools not to ration pay. There is every sign that, apart from a possible token strike this term, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Executive is planning for a strategy of closing lots of individual stable doors after the horse has well and truly bolted.
Time is not on our side. We do not have the luxury of a long-term battle before which we carefully choose the best time to fight. The consultation on these proposals is over and Gove now intends to legislate so that the new system is in place from 1 September 2013. While it’s important, of course, to make judgements as to whether members are ready it’s actually more important to ensure that they are.
And what evidence we have suggests strongly that, given leadership, NUT members are prepared to take action to defend national pay.
Immediately after Gove announced his proposals and before any campaigning work could be done the NUT carried out a selective survey of members. Not surprisingly there was overwhelming opposition to the proposals but the response to questions on action was very encouraging. 84% indicated that they believed members would take action alongside NASUWT, but an impressive 79% said they would support such action if it was only the NUT involved. Whatever quibbles and caveats might be thrown at this evidence it demonstrates a much greater sense of urgency and determination than can be seen from either of the union leaderships.
Our members have already voted overwhelmingly for strikes to defend pay as part of our ballot last summer.
At the December Executive some of us had received huge numbers of motions or statements from school groups calling for decisive and urgent action on pay.
Does this “prove” that enough members are ready for the sort of action necessary to win?
No, but it does suggest that given a serious lead and direction from the Union we can mobilise the vast bulk of members for a serious plan of action.
And that is the other crucial part of the equation. If the most that we can do is announce a one-day strike sometime late in this term with no clear plan for any further action declared in advance then very many members will conclude that they are being asked not to defeat these proposals but to express some token anger at them. Members will mainly support their union’s call but they will see that we are not serious. They will be even more sceptical having gone through the experience of the pensions campaign (two isolated days of action which left the appalling proposals intact).
Of course we would be in a stronger position if the two largest teachers’ unions acted together. It is now clear, however, that NASUWT currently have no intention of striking to defend national pay. Our choice is whether to embark on a plan of action by NUT members, while working to involve the NASUWT and other unions at every stage, or to admit defeat. We know that the decision by NASUWT and other unions to strike on 30 November 2011 was taken because the NUT gave a lead by striking on 30 June.
The most effective, indeed the only, way to make NASUWT to rethink their position is for the NUT to call action and make it a success in as many schools as possible.
• Abridged from the bulletin of the Local Associations Network