The NUT teachers’ union held its annual conference in Cardiff last weekend amid growing economic crisis and increasing threats to public sector spending.
The recession and resistance to it shaped the tone of the conference.
Delegates discussed how the union should respond to the crisis on Monday morning. In a near unanimous vote, they passed a motion declaring that, “working people bear no responsibility for this crisis and should not have to pay the price for it”.
Delegates instructed the NUT executive to continue its pay campaign – with some fearing that the government may try to renege on the three-year pay deal it agreed last year – and to campaign for an increase of £3,000 a year or 10 percent – whichever is greater.
They also backed the fight against privatisation in education, including academies.
Delegates passed an amendment that argued against the divisive “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan and endorsed the People’s Charter initiated by the RMT transport union.
Conference unanimously backed a motion on Tuesday morning to fight the threat of job cuts that results from the funding crisis in sixth forms – by strike action if necessary.
The motion also supported the march for jobs on 16 May in Birmingham, called by the Unite union.
The big story from NUT conference was the unanimous vote to boycott the hated Sats tests for seven and 11 year olds unless the government abolishes them by next year. Teachers cheered and gave a standing ovation when the vote was taken.
Many described the tests as “child abuse”. Sara Tomlinson from Lambeth NUT was cheered when she said, “The government calls us irresponsible for wanting to abolish Sats. But it is the government that is irresponsible for wanting to keep them.”
The government has claimed any boycott of Sats is illegal. But there is a determined mood to do it.
Rising workload, privatisation and inadequate funding in education were all major issues at conference.
The government is now trying to retreat on a promise that, from September this year, teachers should “rarely” cover lessons for other teachers when they are sick.
Delegates debated how to tackle the growing use of non-qualified workers to cover classes, in particular cover supervisors, which harms the quality of education.
The motion resolved to limit the number of days that cover supervisors could be used and to campaign for every class to be taught by a properly qualified teacher. Teachers should push for a ballot for action where necessary to enforce the “rarely cover” promise.
Delegates took a strong stand on several international issues – including committing the NUT to campaign against the spread of war and arms sales to Israel. Conference agreed to encourage members to boycott goods produced in Israel’s occupied territories and condemned Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza.
A mood of resistance was also reflected in various fringe meetings.
Some 150 people attended a meeting on “Building Resistance in the Unions”, organised by the Socialist Teachers Alliance – which included a speaker from Enfield’s Visteon car component plant as well as a French teacher who was involved in the recent strikes.
Around 120 came to a meeting where two parents from the Glasgow schools occupations spoke of their fight to defend education.
Over 200 came to the meeting, “Remember Blair Peach – Stop the BNP”.
Conference showed the mood to fight that exists among teachers – against Sats, academies, increasing workload and attacks on pay. The key for activists will be to transform this mood into real struggle.