Socialist Worker

Teachers back calls for strike ballot at NUT union conference

by Sadie Robinson in Harrogate
Issue No. 2448

Delegates celebrate winning a vote against the Tories’ ‘basline tests

Delegates celebrate winning a vote against the Tories’ ‘basline tests (Pic: Socialist Worker )


Teachers have unanimously backed a plan to ballot for strikes to stop massive funding cuts. NUT union members met in Harrogate last weekend for the union's annual conference.

It was dominated by the fact that schools face a battering. whichever party wins May's general election.

Delegates who spoke about taking on the bankers and taxing the rich won applause and calls for Labour to do more than simply tail the Tories got a good response.

Schools face a 12 percent cut in funding per pupil after the election regardless of the result, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated. This would slash £1 out of every £8 —and mean redundancies, bigger class sizes, increasing workload and less support for vulnerable children.

Yet many teachers are already struggling because of the lack of resources.

Lewis Doig is an early years teacher in Kent. He told Socialist Worker that teachers are forced to make choices about who they support because they didn’t have enough resources.

“You know that children are being abandoned,” he said. “It's dreadful. It's driving people nuts.”

Lewis added that workers' action could stop the attacks.

"The union needs to shape up," he said. "I've always been a promoter of strikes. I think if we had had a programme of dates in 2011 we would've got somewhere."

Delegates called on the union leadership to "ballot for a national campaign of strike and non-strike action" in response to the cuts.

The motion said the NUT would ballot if talks with the government made "no progress". Delegates overwhelmingly passed an amendment that put a time limit on these talks. It instructed the union’s national executive to organise a ballot if no progress is made "by the time of the autumn statement".

Action

The amendment added, "The executive should seek to combine a ballot on this with any ballot for national action on the issue of workload".

Anne Lemon from the union's national executive committee moved the amendment. She said, "The level of cuts are so unprecedented that it starts to signal extraordinary times in education. We must let members know we are preparing to fight back.

"Local action on its own will not defeat the scale of these cuts."

Some cautioned against making too many plans before the make-up of the government is clear.

Yet Paul McGarr from east London argued, "We face a storm coming in education. If we know that's what is coming, we need to start preparing our members."

An amendment called for the union to prepare "a calendar of escalating national strike action" in the event of a ballot. It was only narrowly defeated, with 47 percent of conference backing it.

The debate showed teachers' anger about the government's assault on education —

 and that many want to see an urgent fight to stop it. But turning that anger into action depends on what teachers do on the ground in their schools.

Roz Morton from Sefton NUT told Socialist Worker that a ballot for strikes is "necessary". "We already face an unworkable workload," she said. "I'm a rep and I deal frequently with staff who are off due to stress.

"Management seem to think it's cheaper to manage them out of the profession and replace them with a newly qualified teacher. We need to show whichever party comes in that the NUT has a strong position."

Disagreement over what kind of resistance is possible underlay many conference debates.

Roz said, "Some people talk of the difficulties in mobilising members. But I know in my school that if we go to teachers with a clear plan of action they will back it.

"They want to know we are fighting to win."


Debating how to build the fightback

Delegates debated how to strengthen resistance in several fringe meetings.

A 200-strong Organising to Win fringe meeting gave NUT reps a chance to talk about their experience of building struggle. It was called by several teachers' associations.

The meeting showed the potential for workers to organise and win - even in schools with no history of struggle.

Alan from Gateway Sixth Form College in Leicester talked about a battle to scrap a new observations policy. "We had a history of doing absolutely nothing," he said. “But teachers won improvements after taking five days of strikes.”

"Now there's hardly anyone who isn't in the NUT," said Alan. "I was as guilty as anyone of underestimating members. Do not under-estimate members."

Warwickshire teacher Emma was also involved in a fight that won changes in observations. "It was stressful. I felt vulnerable as a rep," she said. "But we've got so much power if only we would use it."

Around 200 delegates came to a fringe meeting on fighting austerity organised by the Socialist Teachers Alliance and the Campaign for Free Education.

Dina, a member of the Greek radical left party Syriza who lives in Britain, said Syriza needs international solidarity. "And we need for you to conduct your own struggles here," she added.

Kristine from the Chicago Teachers Union described how teachers there had built a mass movement – including strikes – against plans to shut schools.

NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said, "We are going to have to build a social movement to stop the assault on our schools."

He argued that building effective resistance needed "patient work" to build confidence among workers.

Some 150 delegates came to an official fringe meeting on supply teachers. Some questioned why the union had not done more to support supply teachers and recruit them to the union.

Teachers are angry at the damaging impact Tory reforms are having on children's education and wellbeing.

Delegates unanimously passed a motion stressing the importance of play and proper breaks for young children. They also unanimously backed a motion to "campaign for the abolition of Ofsted".

Motivated 

The motion said the schools' inspectorate's "politically motivated agenda to drive forward the academy programme" made it "unfit for purpose".

Paul Jackson from Fylde in Lancashire told conference, "Ofsted is a corrupt machine."

Delegates backed a motion calling for properly funded and resourced services for children with special education needs - including the "reestablishment of posts which have been deleted in recent years".

They highlighted stress and mental health problems in schools. They called on the union to "challenge the causes of stress" and campaign for a supportive education system.

Simon Shaw from Redbridge, east London, was loudly applauded when he said stress "makes what should be one of the best jobs in the world one of the worst".

They also called for an end to the pay freeze and to performance-related pay.

Teachers have suffered a 16 percent real terms pay cut since the Tories came to office.

Delegates unanimously backed a motion calling on the union to "prepare for and ballot for a national campaign of strike and non-strike action" over pay if no progress is made in government talks.

They overwhelmingly backed a motion calling for the same thing over attacks on pensions.

Delegates passed motions calling on the leadership to tackle the under-representation of black and minority ethnic people in teaching, and to promote LGBT and women's rights.

Teachers agreed to back the People's Assembly Against Austerity demonstration in London on 20 June.

Conference unanimously passed a motion opposing youth service cuts in the wake of several child abuse scandals. The motion called for full legal aid for abuse survivors and victims and whistle-blowers’ families.

It added, "The NUT rejects the perpetration of racist views that stereotype abusers as belonging to particular communities or religions".


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