Teachers in the NUT union will hold a national strike ballot over the Tory assault on their pensions—and aim to coordinate action with other public sector unions.
They could be set to strike alongside another teachers’ union, the ATL, as well as the UCU lecturers’ union and the PCS civil service union.
The action could see hundreds of thousands of workers on strike together on 30 June.
The NUT union will now ballot for four weeks starting on 17 May.
The near-unanimous vote for the ballot by delegates to the NUT conference is a big step forward in the battle against the Tories’ war on workers.
This year’s annual conference, held in Harrogate last weekend, was different from the start.
As Lily Eskelsen, who spoke to delegates about the battle for union rights in Wisconsin, put it, “These are not normal times.”
Cheers went to anyone who congratulated the student movement in Britain, or the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Anyone who attacked the bankers and the rich was applauded.
Delegates, along with the union’s entire national executive, voted to support a general strike. Big numbers came to left wing fringe meetings (see box).
Newly-elected president Nina Franklin ended her inaugural speech by playing Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up”, to applause from the floor.
And ATL general secretary Mary Bousted got a standing ovation when she spoke about her union’s decision to hold a national strike ballot.
Delegates told of how the mood was also changing among people they work with.
Hackney teacher Suzie Burroughs described how other teachers had been asking when the strikes were going to be.
“Young teachers do understand the importance of defending pensions,” she told Socialist Worker. “They aren’t thinking, ‘this won’t affect me for years’ because they are seeing their contributions going up by 50 percent now.”
Delegates passed motions condemning government cuts as ideologically driven and unnecessary. Helen Chuter, a delegate from Lancaster, said the government wanted “to starve the poor to feed the rich”, adding, “We need to bring this government down.”
Motions were passed calling for a Robin Hood tax on bank transactions, opposing privatisation in schools, encouraging NUT members to get involved in anti-cuts campaigns and backing campaigning organisations such as Right to Work.
Delegates also backed action over workloads and excessive lesson observations. They voted to back the student protests—and condemned cases where teachers have been victimised for supporting the students.
London teachers from Camden and Tower Hamlets, who struck together against cuts last month, stressed the potential of building resistance and shared the lessons of their fight. Andrew Baisley from Camden said that union membership had risen by 10 percent during the dispute.
Aisling Macsweeney, a newly qualified teacher in Tower Hamlets, said, “We were striking with our colleagues in Unison and teachers in Camden. We showed that coordinated action is possible.
“Wouldn’t it be great if it wasn’t just east London and Camden on strike but teachers across the country?”
It was during the debate on pensions and coordinated strikes that the conference became even more intense.
Delegates overwhelmingly voted for a national ballot on pensions, with no votes against and just two abstentions.
The motion instructs the union’s executive “to ballot NUT members for discontinuous strike action” and to hold the first strike during the summer term.
It also calls on the executive to work with other trade unions to discuss ways of “maximising pressure on the government”.
Delegates also backed an amendment instructing the executive to draw up plans for further actions on pensions following a strike in June.
Alex Kenny, from the NUT executive, stressed that, “Voting for the motion is easy. But the ballot won’t be won by NUT HQ or from those of us with facility time.
“Each and every one of us has a responsibility to deliver the best possible vote.”
By far the loudest cheers and applause went to Doug Morgan from Birmingham. “I enjoy teaching,” he said. “What stops me enjoying it is this government pushing initiative after initiative down my throat.
“The problems in the private sector have not been caused by us. And they won’t go away if we do nothing.
“You are voting to say this weak and nasty government is going to be defeated.
“We’re going to stop them in their tracks. If it means bringing this government down, I’ll be proud to do it.”
The mood to fight was clear. As Nina Franklin put it, the union’s leadership must harness that mood and build effective action.
“It is all a question of confidence,” she said. “Teachers are prepared to fight. If they are given the lead and if they are given the confidence, they will fight.”