Above: campaigners at the conference
At the conference of the National Education Union (NEU: Liverpool, 15-18 April) the left has won a major and hard-fought-for victory to ballot all primary members for a boycott of all high-stakes summative tests in primary.
That position has been lost at conference for the last four years in favour of vague promises over surveys and building for a future ballot. The architects and main drivers of this victory have been Workers’ Liberty supporters and the main motion was moved by a Workers’ Liberty member.
This is the first conference of the new union, formed by merger of NUT and ATL.
It is a conference of around 1,500 from a union of some 450,000 education workers.
Encouragingly, conference has shown signs of a real determination to fight against the opposition of an allegedly left-wing but do-nothing leadership. Fears that ex-ATL members would move conference to the right seem unfounded. Maybe even the contrary, as they are less factionally loyal and more willing to listen to debate.
The leadership attempted to move a gutting amendment on primary testing, which fell heavily. Another amendment tried to water down the main motion, calling for a members’ survey before a ballot, but after four years of these sort of equivocations being passed at NUT conference and the leadership not following through, conference voted that down too.
Having lost all the weakening and wrecking amendments the leadership disgracefully attempted to vote down the main motion. The initial vote was close. After a re-vote, the chair, Kiri Tunks, part of the leadership faction, called the motion lost.
The floor refused to accept Tunks’s ruling. In the end she allowed a digital vote, and the motion passed 56.13%-43.87%. The struggle to achieve this had a transformative effect on the mood of conference. Left activists now have a spring in their step and the leadership group are on the back foot.
We have important discussions coming up, and a lot still to fight for at conference. On pay, where the left is arguing for a claim of 10% and a serious strategy to win it. On support staff, where Workers’ Liberty have led the way arguing for an industrial strategy, actively recruiting non-teachers and fighting for bargaining rights for them (we have, largely, pulled the left behind us on this). On fighting the anti-union laws, there is another motion, written by Workers’ Liberty members.
Now we need to take the vote to ballot on boycott and pressurise the leadership to follow through and build in our areas to make it happen and win it.