Teachers' dispute must escalate

Submitted by Matthew on 26 March, 2014 - 2:49

Members of the National Union of Teachers will strike on Wednesday 26 March.

Talks with the Department of Education are ongoing, but the government has made it very clear that these talks will not deal with the issues at the heart of the teachers’ dispute. They will only discuss the implementation of policies, including the raising of the retirement age to 69, the end of final salary pensions, and the end of automatic annual pay progression.

Unfortunately, the other main teaching union, NASUWT, will not strike. This has left some NUT members in schools demoralised and frustrated and where emboldened headteachers are using NASUWT’s inaction to press the advantage and keep schools open.

The refusal of other teacher unions to co-ordinate with NUT is the biggest help Michael Gove could hope for. To counter this, activists on the ground should ensure picket lines talk to NASUWT members, and that joint NUT-NASUWT meetings are set up for after the strike day to discuss escalating action in their schools jointly on workload and local pay policies.

What happens after 26 March? A well-supported strike might force NASUWT to reconsider its position, but whether this dispute involves both unions, or just the NUT, it cannot hope to win on the basis of very occasional one-day strikes. If all the strikes so far had been part of a strategically-planned, publicly-advertised, and less spread-out series of strikes — we may have been getting somewhere. Escalated action would be more possible on the basis of such a campaign, rather than Duke of York-style one-day spectacles.

Since 2012, the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) has argued for an escalating programme of action designed to win the dispute or force significant concessions.

Public campaigning, street stalls, rallies and meetings that the NUT has rightly been carrying out need to be backed up with a serious industrial strategy.

This continues to be the only way to revive the dispute and give real hope to the tens of thousands of teachers who will strike on 26 March.

The attacks on teachers have increased since the 2011 pension cuts. There have been changes to national pay arrangements, and a huge expansion of academies. The NUT and the other teachers’ unions need to address some of the core issues such as national pay, pension age, and excessive workload. To restore national pay rates, reduce the unsustainable workload, and ensure that these things apply to all state-funded schools, it will be necessary to draw up a clear set of demands.

A fight for a national contract, campaigned for by teacher trade unionists alongside parents and the wider public, could become a tool for breathing new life into a long-running dispute.

In February 2014, LANAC agreed to stand two candidates for the leadership of the NUT, Martin Powell-Davis for General Secretary and Patrick Murphy for Deputy General Secretary. This is an important step in challenging the existing leadership and its current (lack of) “strategy”. Patrick and Martin have consistently argued and voted on the Executive for escalating, coordinating, and planning a calendar of industrial action as well as a more independent and assertive approach to winning NASUWT to action.

However challenging, the current NUT leadership electorally is not an end in itself.

This must be part of opening up a serious discussion about industrial strategy throughout all layers of the union.

The left in the London NUT elections

In the NUT Executive elections for Inner London, for which ballot papers were posted out on 19 March, the SWP has allied with Alex Kenny to try to remove Martin Powell-Davies from the Exec.

Powell-Davies is a member of the Socialist Party, but has consistently been among those on the NUT Exec arguing for ongoing and escalating industrial action focused on definite demands (not just an appeal to Tory minister Michael Gove to “consider compromise” with the NUT).

Nominally the Exec has a left majority; but in fact every major vote has been decided by a de facto alliance, of the CDFU (one of the left factions), the “soft left” of the STA (another left faction) and the incumbent full-time officials, with the old right wing.

Kenny is the leading figure in that STA “soft left”, and an Inner London Exec member. In the current election he is campaigning jointly with SWPer Jess Edwards to remove Powell-Davies from the Exec.

The leaflets from Kenny and Edwards say little other than that they like education and dislike Gove, but their hope must be that Edwards will win enough votes on the strength of being a woman and a primary teacher to displace Powell-Davies.

Solidarity urges Inner London teachers to vote for Powell-Davies, who will also be contesting the next NUT General Secretary election in an alliance with AWL member Patrick Murphy as candidate for Deputy General Secretary.

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