Delegates to the EIS teaching union’s annual general meeting in Dundee last weekend voted unanimously to continue the fight for pensions. The motion passed called for further joint action in the campaign.
The union pulled out of striking in March, and negotiations with the Scottish National Party (SNP) government are ongoing.
Scottish teachers and lecturers are part of the same pension scheme as teachers in England and Wales. But any changes to the scheme have to be passed through the Scottish parliament.
There is a widespread feeling among members that an acceptable deal is unlikely to emerge and that it is necessary to take further strike action.
Treasury secretary Danny Alexander interfered in the talks and tried to limit any variation on changes the government wants to force through.
He said increases to retirement age are not negotiable and that higher contributions will come from Scotland’s block grant from the treasury if not from wages.
Despite their oppositional rhetoric, the SNP increased contributions in April in line with increases elsewhere.
The newly appointed EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan made it clear that, “If they fail to deliver a fair settlement on pensions here in Scotland, we are prepared to fight them every bit as hard as we will fight the UK coalition government on this issue.”
The motion supported continuing the fight alongside other unions when possible. The recent announcement of joint action by the NUT and NASUWT unions in the autumn was welcomed in that respect.
But speakers from the floor made emphasized that they expected the fight to hot back up in the autumn, with other unions if possible but independently if necessary.
Activists now need to organise to make sure an autumn strike happens and that another long recess is not allowed to demobilise the resistance.
The effects of austerity were a prominent feature of debates throughout the conference in motions ranging from resistance to local authority budget cuts and opposition to changes in employment law.
Delegates discussed a motion on the pay claim for when the current pay freeze ends in April next year.
Steven Caniffi, a delegate from East Renfrewshire called for the claim to be part of a wider campaign with other unions against austerity.
He said that we must make it clear “we reject austerity, we’ve paid enough already and we’re not paying any more”.
A key debate of the conference focused on the introduction of new qualifications as part of the “Curriculum for Excellence”.
The implementation of the new curriculum has been particularly controversial in terms of the workload it has generated and the lack of training and resources made available to support it.
The EIS did wring some concessions from the government, such as course materials, development days and funds recently. But many teachers are still angry.
A motion calling for industrial action to delay the new qualifications would have derailed their implementation. Although this was lost by two to one, concerns about the Curriculum for Excellence continue to grow.