Teachers in the NUT union have voted narrowly in favour of taking several days of national strike action against their below-inflation pay offer.
Yet despite this, the NUT executive will not call any action.
Almost 52 percent of teachers who took part in the ballot voted to strike, on a turnout of just under 30 percent.
The NUT executive should have acted on the decision of its members.
The vote for action was narrow and uneven across the country. But it showed that widespread anger over pay and a willingness to fight back is still there.
The SWP believes that despite the closeness of the vote activists could have built successful strike action.
The strike in April pulled in new and younger NUT members and many played a leading role in the action. They would have done the same this time and further action could have galvanised new layers of people.
To decide not to call action when the members have voted for it sends a dangerous message to employers and the government that the union does not have confidence in its members’ willingness to follow its lead.
It is for these reasons that the two members of the Socialist Workers Party on the NUT executive put forward an amendment calling for action. This amendment received three votes.
Why was the strike vote in the ballot not higher?
Many members were worried about the growing recession. Some asked if the money was there to pay teachers after the bailout of the bankers.
Events in the other public sector unions also had an impact.
The decision of the Unison leadership to move to binding arbitration in their local government pay dispute rather than call more strike action, was a setback. So was the decision of further education lecturers in the UCU to accept their below-inflation pay offer.
These factors definitely had an affect on the confidence of many good union activists during the campaign. They were also reflected in the debates on the NEC.
But it was also true that time after time where the arguments about the recession and the justice of the teachers’ case were put they were won. The NUT took part in a fantastic strike in April alongside workers in the PCS and the UCU unions.
But the failure of the NUT to call any further action in the summer term meant that some of the momentum that had built up dissipated.
Unfortunately, the union didn’t respond quickly enough to the new questions raised by the economic crisis in staffrooms. This helps to explain why many activists were unconfident and why more NUT members weren’t mobilised to put the arguments for action.
Despite all of this, teachers have still voted to take strike action—not just for one day but for several. The PCS union has recently called a national strike after winning a vote of 54 percent for action. And after all Barack Obama was elected US president after winning just over 52 percent of the vote!
The failure to act on the yes vote, despite all the difficulties, is a real setback for the fight against the pay freeze.
Teachers are facing a huge attack on their pay as part of Gordon Brown’s public sector pay limits. Their pay offer will tie them in to below-inflation pay “rises” for the next three years.
A national strike by 250,000 teachers in the NUT would have put up a huge challenge to Brown, at a time when other workers in the public sector such as civil servants in the PCS and health workers in Unite are fighting back.
But the fight in the schools is far from over. The issue of pay will not disappear. And other key campaigns around academies, SATs, workload and many other issues will still motivate teachers to fight.
It’s now important that activists in the NUT have a serious discussion about the successes and failures of the pay campaign in order to chart a way forward, both in building the union and building the left for the fights to come.