Socialist Worker

NUT conference: Teachers vote for June strike and vow to defend education

Full report from this year's NUT conference, by Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2400

Teachers rally in Birmingham during the strike on 26 March

Teachers rally in Birmingham during the strike on 26 March (Pic: Socialist Worker)


'We have to go beyond protest and win'

Teachers have voted overwhelmingly for a one-day national strike in June.

The NUT union members, meeting for their national conference in Brighton, are fighting Tory education secretary Michael Gove's attacks on their pay, pensions and conditions.

The amended motion passed instructed union leaders to "draw up plans for a national strike in the week beginning June 23rd" if "significant progress" has not been made. It added that the union should seek to coordinate with other unions and show "flexibility" to their timescales.

The motion also instructed the union to "consult with members about a series of strikes through the autumn term".It announced a lobby of parliament on 10 June and committed to mobilise for a People's Assembly protest on 21 June.

Catherine Brennan is a secondary school teacher in outer London. She told Socialist Worker, "This is a campaign that cannot afford to lose. The future of education is at stake."

Delegates took part on Saturday in a heated debate about whether there should be more hard-hitting action. One amendment called for at least four days of strikes in the autumn term along with a series of demands to improve teachers' pay and conditions.

Delegates who opposed the amendment said it was "unrealistic".

Jess Edwards from Lambeth backed the amendment. She said it was important to "recognise the strengths of the campaign so far". But she said, "The debate is about the way forward. We have to go beyond protest and win."

Union leaders argued against the amendment and it lost. Yet some 36 percent of conference delegates voted for it on a card vote.

Andrew, an NUT member in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, told Socialist Worker, "In my school a lot of teachers are disaffected with the union leadership.

Strategy

"On 30 November 2011 the strike was very well supported. But after that a lot of younger teachers drifted away as they thought the union had no strategy. I don't understand why they didn't roll it on. We need to up the ante."

Nigel Varley is a retired teacher in Bristol. He told Socialist Worker, “The arguments against escalation I heard at conference are exactly the same as I heard the last time we were involved in a big dispute over salaries in 1986-1987. Then we lost.

"On the Bristol demonstration during the March strike people were saying one day isn't enough. They want sufficient action to win."

Some in the union, including on the left, argued that there wasn't enough backing nationally to successfully escalate the action. They said that sustained teachers' strikes were possible—but not now.

Paul McGarr is an NUT rep in Tower Hamlets, east London. He told Socialist Worker, "Union leaders point to unevenness among teachers. But in most areas the strike on 26 March was very good. And putting forward a strategy that can win holds out the prospect of overcoming that unnevenness."

NUT president Max Hyde ruled that amendments calling for two days of strikes in the summer term and to begin a debate on "the possible use of indefinite strike action" would not be heard.

This followed a very close vote on whether to hear the amendments.

Teachers have shown their willingness to fight in every strike ballot and their ability to hold successful action in every walkout.

Anne Lemon from the NUT's NEC stressed that teachers could still escalate their action. She said, "The motion does not exclude us from taking action with other unions. There's nothing that precludes that in this motion.

"If we take strike action one day and one day six months later, and we don't make progress, we have two choices. One is give up. The second is that we step up. Our members are for stepping up."


Hated Tory education secretary Michael Gove

Hated Tory education secretary Michael Gove (Pic: Wellington College)


Struggles over academies, free schools and unqualified teachers

Delegates passed a motion rejecting "any notion of an 'unqualified teacher' status". This follows the opening up of "unqualified teachers" in schools pushed by Michael Gove.

An amendment instructed union leaders "to continue to place the demand for a qualified teacher for every child at the heart of our campaign for education".

It also committed the union to "call on whichever party forms the next government to bring forward legislation to this effect".

Tony Buttifint from Islington, north London, moved the amendment. He said the spread of unqualified teachers showed up the "financially-driven philosophy of this government".

He said the aim was to get "teachers on less pay and worse conditions".

Jon Reddiford from North Somerset said the Tories wanted to make schools cheaper to run to "open up the sector to privatisation and private investors to make profit".

Audrey Glover from Lancaster, Morecambe & District said she'd been asked to work as a teaching assistant—despite being a fully qualified teacher.

"There's a real overuse of teaching assistants as teachers in special needs education," she said. "This is a real attack on the most vulnerable children, those with learning difficulties."

The debate directly linked to discussions on privatisation in education. Delegates overwhelmingly passed a motion condemning free schools and academies.

Gerry Kelly from Waltham Forest, east London, said academy bosses saw "children as units with pound signs on their heads".

An amendment called upon Labour to bring free schools back into local authority control if elected next year.

Delegates described how it was possible to fight back—both against academy status and within privatised schools.

Chris Denson from Coventry said teachers at his school fought off a threat of academy status three years ago. "We threatened to strike," he said. And when management refused to budge, "We knew the only option was to escalate".

Ken Muller from Islington described a recent victory over contracts at Stem 6 free school. "Members voted to strike one day the first week, two days the second week, three days the third week," he said.

"Management said any strikes would be futile. Later we received an email from management saying they were willing to enter into meaningful negotiations.

"Strikes work when employers know they're going to be followed up by escalating, hard-hitting action. If we fight, and fight hard, we can win."


Ofsted causes stress and wastes time

Delegates unanimously agreed that the real role of Ofsted is "to show government policies are working and to unfairly criticise teachers". A motion denounced Ofsted observations as leading to "increased workload, undue stress and illness".

The motion instructed the union's executive to "look into ways of not cooperating with the process" if Ofsted is not reformed.

Bhasker Bhadresha from Redbridge moved the motion. "The system has gone mad," he said. "No one is against accountability. But Ofsted is stopping us teaching."

Lesley Jackson from Cambridgeshire talked of the "time-wasting" tasks teachers undertake "just in case Ofsted visits". Laura Fisher from Wakefield & District described the stress Ofsted causes

"Two years ago I suffered stress," she told conference. "I wasn't sleeping at night. My hair fell out."

An amendment called on the NUT to "develop and intensify the work with the Too Much Too Soon Campaign" that opposes formal learning for very young children.

Another highlighted the outsourcing of Ofsted inspections. It pointed out that this could lead to inspectors linked to academy chains inspecting schools "that could subsequently be taken over by that chain".

Delegates passed a motion condemning discrimination faced by older women teachers.

Jane Nellist from Coventry moved the motion. She condemned the "regular and systematic cull of older teachers".

Many delegates welcomed the motion but criticised some of the wording, which claimed menopause left some women "not being able to finish a sentence".

Jan Nielsen from Wandsworth, south London, won a standing ovation when she said attacks on teachers were not driven by "fluctuations in our oestrogen levels".

"We are expensive," she said. "In every classroom we are the memory of a different, child-centred education. And we are incredibly bolshy.

"We need a motion that celebrates older teachers and doesn't treat us as victims as our hormones."


Opposing policies of poverty and racism

Delegates passed a motion highlighting growing child poverty in Britain. It instructed the union to continue to campaign to reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance and for universal free school meals.

Delegates also condemned the government's Immigration Bill and its racist attacks on migrants.

It instructed union leaders to oppose the proposals in the bill.

Anne Lemon from North Somerset told conference, "We've got a duty of care to our students to ensure they get the true facts about immigration."

She said the Tories wanted to scapegoat migrants for the crisis. "Let's put the blame where the blame really lies," she said to applause. "It's not the Romanians, it's the Etonians."

There was strong backing for other workers in dispute. An official conference collection raised over £1,300 for striking Care UK workers in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Andy, a Care UK striker, spoke at a packed fringe meeting organised by the Socialist Teachers Alliance and Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union on Friday evening.

He told delegates that workers had voted for a 14-day strike in the ongoing campaign. "That's how strongly people feel about the dispute," he said.


International solidarity

Delegates held a minute's silence for the victims of the South Korean ferry and sent solidarity greetings to the South Korean teachers' union.

Many delegates also reported on a union trip to Palestine last year. Caroline Ezzat and Bodrul Amin were part of the delegation—and were both detained by Israeli forces while there.

Bodrul said their crime was "quite simply being a different colour".

Delegates overwhelmingly passed a motion calling on the British government to pursue the dismantling of the wall in Palestine and of Israeli army checkpoints.

Paul McGarr from east London said, "It's right that we stand against all forms of discrimination. We stand in solidarity with others fighting back."


Support inclusion for disabled children

Teachers overwhelmingly backed support for inclusive education for children with disabilities and special education needs.

Richard Rieser from Hackney said the government's Children and Families Bill would make it "much easier for mainstream schools not to take disabled children".

"They can shift the kids out who they think will harm their results," he said. Richard added that the changes were linked to the government's agenda of privatisation.

The motion instructed union leaders to support teachers "balloting for sustained industrial action to protect existing provision, jobs and conditions".

Another motion, passed unanimously, pointed to union analysis that free school intakes are less inclusive than other schools. Teachers described a "postcode lottery" in the support available to children.


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