Some 250 NUT delegates discussed “Where next after 26 March?” at what was the biggest Friday night fringe meeting at NUT conference in years.
The mood was militant.
Alison Lord, a lecturer at Tower Hamlets College and member of the UCU union’s national executive committee, was cheered when she spoke about the recent lecturers’ strikes there.
“The demonstration on 26 March has given people confidence,” she said. “It’s shown the potential to topple this government. Now, united action is seen as popular and necessary.
“But we also know that, if we all come out on 30 June, it still won’t be enough. The government is determined to press ahead with austerity even though it’s been shown not to work—look at Portugal, Greece and Ireland.”
“We need a general strike,” she added, to applause from the floor.
And NUT general secretary Christine Blower spoke, asking them to “make sure your membership lists are up to date” because more strike ballots would be coming.
Kiri Tunks, a teacher in Tower Hamlets, spoke brilliantly about how teachers had prepared for their recent one-day strike—and the obstacles they had overcome along the way.
She said, “We had a six-month build-up to the strike. We sent out people to speak to school meetings everywhere.
“We faced some hard questions. If you’re the only NUT member in a small primary school, how do you tell your head that you won’t be coming in on the strike day?”
Kiri said that there were some schools where teachers were initially nervous of taking action. But she said that, on the strike day, ordinary teachers surprised long-time activists.
“Even schools that we thought weren’t confident enough to come out were shut down on the day,” she said.
“Face-to-face conversations really made a difference in convincing people to come out.
“Our strike isn’t a magic wand and we haven’t stopped all cuts. But we’ve slowed them and we’ve saved some jobs. We won lots of support.
“We had a net increase of 120 NUT members and we now have 80 reps in 97 schools.
“We’ll need a lot more action like this to stop the cuts. But we’ve done a lot already—and if we can do it, everyone can.”
Labour MP John McDonnell began by saying that it should be everyone’s responsibility “to spend every minute of every day trying to bring this government down”.
“I sit in parliament opposite a party of millionaire bastards,” he said. “I want to give them a good slapping.”
To cheers and applause he went on, “I congratulate the students, those ones that gave Millbank a good kicking.
“The students who we thought were passive actually showed the way.
“Whatever form of resistance people take, we should support them. We need maximum solidarity.”