The public sector pay fight suffered a serious setback last week when the NUT teachers’ union decided not to call further strikes over pay. This was good news for the government and employers.
Almost 52 percent of teachers who took part in the ballot voted to strike on a turnout of just under 30 percent. They voted for several days of national strike action against a three-year below-inflation pay offer.
But the NUT executive voted not to proceed, judging the turnout too small. The majority feared losing members to other unions in the competitive recruitment market in schools.
Myself and Chris Blakey – the two SWP members on the executive – put forward an amendment to call a one-day national strike, supported by one other executive member, articulating the voice of the actual majority of voters.
There is still anger over inflation among teachers and disgust at bail-outs for the rich. Yet the depth and speed of the world recession has clearly created fear and confusion among some.
But it is not enough to simply shrug our shoulders and say we were unlucky with the timing. The recession is not an act of God. Things could have been different.
No teacher has expressed the view that our pay claim was unjust or that government could not afford it.
But members had tactical doubts. There was no clear programme of action from the NUT about how and when we would act. The decisions by the Unison and UCU unions not to call further action left us with only the PCS as an ally.
There was also concern that public opinion would oppose us, though where those arguments were met head-on they were often won.
Clearly the momentum built up after the strike on 24 April was lost, especially in May when the NUT executive voted to reject the left’s call for further strikes in the summer.
Despite these problems, NUT members still voted to take strike action. They deserved more than a “Thanks–but no thanks” from their leaders.
We now have our work cut out to salvage members’ confidence in their own ability to wage future fights.
Pay may recede in importance if inflation comes down next year. But local government job cuts are due next April, and the Daily Mail’s clamour to end public sector pensions will grow.
Our next struggles will require greater unity across the public sector and a political will to prevent us paying for capitalism’s crisis, even if it means rocking Gordon Brown’s electoral boat.