Teachers took the lead in the revolt against Gordon Brown’s public sector pay limit last weekend when the NUT union’s conference voted unanimously to call for more strike action.
Teachers in the NUT are balloting for a one-day strike over pay, set for Thursday 24 April. This will be the first national teachers’ strike in over 20 years.
Other groups of workers could strike on the same day.
Further education lecturers in the UCU union are balloting over pay, tens of thousands of civil service workers in the PCS union are in dispute over pay and 20,000 Birmingham council workers could also strike.
The annual conference in Manchester voted for a priority motion on pay last Saturday instructing the NUT executive to begin a ballot for discontinuous action (a series of strikes) “at the earliest appropriate opportunity”.
It also called for a widening of the campaign to include issues such as workload and class sizes and committed the union to taking action together with other public sector unions.
The vote is a reflection of the mood among teachers, who recognise that a one-day strike will be just the beginning of the fight and who are angry about more than just pay.
Molly Perrineau, the joint assistant secretary of Lambeth NUT, told Socialist Worker, “We are tying the issues together because everyone can see that people are ready for a fight.
“If we don’t do something now then the quality of life for teachers and the quality of education for children will just keep getting worse.”
A strong yes vote in the NUT pay ballot and big rallies and protests on 24 April can make the possibility of calling further action more likely.
There was some debate at the conference about the timetable for action after the first strike.
Many activists argued that teachers had to “strike while the union’s hot” and look towards action in the summer term.
If a ballot for discontinuous action is called soon after 24 April, the NUT can build on the momentum.
Speakers at the conference stressed the importance of striking with other public sector unions.
“Taking action in the summer would make unity with other unions more likely,” said Paul McGarr from Tower Hamlets in east London. “Let’s have the courage to lead the fight.”
Doug Morgan from Birmingham was cheered when he announced, “I was fined £64 for refusing to cross a picket line when Birmingham council workers struck recently over single status. It was the best £64 I’ve ever spent.”
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union sent a message of support to the conference. Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU, union, spoke at the conference, saying “We will see you on 24 April.”
Many delegates felt that the commitment to further action would help them win the ballot.
“Lots of people realise that a one day strike is not enough,” said Tommy Izzett, a newly qualified teacher in east London. “Now we can say, this is just the start, there will be more action afterwards.”
Delegates also saw the fight as part of the battle for the future of education. Activists have been campaigning to make sure the ballot is a big yes vote.
“The campaign has been really active in my area,” said Tommy. “We’ve been going to other schools to speak at union meetings about why the ballot is so important.”
Claire Johnson, a primary school teacher in Leeds, told Socialist Worker, “The mood is really positive, especially among younger teachers. Everyone is committed to action.”
Teachers spoke about how the pay campaign has led to more teachers joining the NUT and how a new layer of activists is developing.
Across the country teachers are organising for 24 April – with a march and rally planned for London on the day to increase the impact of the strike. This should be a model for NUT associations across the country.
In Bolton, teachers have planned a programme of action for the strike. They have organised a meeting on the eve of the strike to plan picket lines and make placards. They have a rally planned on the day of the strike and a meeting the week after to discuss the next steps.
In the final days of the ballot, teachers need to do all they can to get the maximum turnout and a strong yes vote for action.
The opportunity exists to build a huge, united campaign with the strength to win.