Around 100 people attended a fringe meeting on the Friday evening of conference on pay, politics and trade unionism, organised by the Socialist Teachers Alliance.
Sue Bond from the PCS civil service workers’ union executive spoke to the meeting in a personal capacity, as well as a speaker from Unison who had been involved in the campaign to stop attacks at housing charity Shelter and Alex Kenny from the NUT executive. There was a real sense that workers face the same problems from the same enemy and need to fight back together.
Sue Bond was cheered when she said, “John Hutton praises the rich in this country but we’re told we have to tighten our belts. The government has made this political by trying to pick off unions one by one. That’s why we have to unite and fight together.”
Alex Kenny talked about the political development of the union. “In the past we raised abortion rights and anti-racism and were told it wasn’t relevant to the NUT,” he said. “But this time we will raise support for Abortion Rights and there will be no sense that this is not relevant to teachers.”
The debate from the floor opened up a discussion over the pay campaign. Speakers spoke of the commitment and enthusiasm that existed among teachers for the strike on 24 April, but also asked, “What happens the following day?”. Sally Kincaid from Wakefield NUT said, “I can understand that there’s some hesitancy about where next for the campaign—this will be our first national strike in over 20 years. But we can’t be like the grand old duke of york – marching our troops to the top of the hill just to march them down again. It’s great that we have people on the executive who are taking a lead. We have a responsibility to get this right.”
Around 100 people attended a fringe meeting organised by Campaign Teacher. Helen Williams from Bury NUT set the mood when she began, “There are 33 days to strike day”. She pointed out that, even by the government’s preferred inflation measure of CPI, this has now increased to 2.5 percent. Even on the government’s own measure, the offer for teachers is a pay cut.
Sean Vernell also spoke at the meeting from the UCU union’s executive. He began by thanking teachers for providing an inspiration to lecturers to take action. Further education lecturers have now started a ballot over their below-inflation pay offer, and hope to strike alongside teachers on 24 April. “The potential for united action is something that is really exciting for our members,” he said. “Anyone with an axe to grind can come out and join us on the 24th”.
Speakers talked about how the market and privatisation are wrecking education and that the battle over pay could not be removed from a wider battle for the future of education. Activists spoke about the importance of organising vibrant events on the day of the strike to pull together workers from different unions on the day.