This year’s NUT union conference in Brighton has seen fury at the Tories' assault on schools. Delegates have passed motions condemning academies and privatisation, and demanding that privately-run schools are renationalised.
They also called on the union to organise a national demonstration against cuts in school funding and to encourage local action against them.
Teachers described the devastation wreaked by Tory cuts—but many also took heart from recent strikes by UCU union members in universities.
Paula Champion from Cambridgeshire said early years provision was being “torn apart” because of cuts. “We need to create an atmosphere where we are talking about large scale industrial action,” she said.
“We’ve seen it in the UCU. The NEU can do that too.”
Daniel Kebede from North Tyneside was applauded when he said, “We are being robbed by an elite few who refuse to pay their share. We can’t just wait for a Labour government—the attacks are happening now.
“We need to take inspiration from the UCU. Let’s fight like we’ve never fought before.”
Fighting academies was also a key theme of the conference on Saturday. Delegates instructed the union, which is merging with the ATL union to form the NEU, to make demanding renationalisation of schools “a key priority”.
It also committed the union to “vigorously lobby and campaign” for the Labour Party to back these demands and make renationalisation “a key part of its education policy”.
Peter Burgess from Hammersmith said shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is “wrong to argue that the Labour Party needs to move on from the debate on academisation.”
The union heard about inspiring battles to stop schools being turned into academies.
Carolyn McGrath is the NEU rep at Cumberland School in Newham, east London, where workers have struck against academy plans. She stressed the need to build coalitions between workers and parents to fight academies.
There were shouts of “shame” when she described how the Labour council had pushed the school towards academisation.
Miriam Scharf also from Newham added, “We have a very strong borough-wide campaign against academisation. And two governing bodies decided to vote against academisation.
“It’s revitalised our union branch beyond belief.”
Miriam stressed that the union’s willingness to call “sustained, extended, effective action” had made all the difference.
Michael Wilmott from Ealing spoke about an ongoing dispute at Acton High school, where workers have struck against a takeover by the Ark chain.
“Support staff have joined in their droves to be part of the action,” he told delegates. “We thank the union for authorising the most amount of strikes ever requested.”
Alasdair Smith from Waltham Forest described how the Village school in Brent started with 32 NEU members. After a campaign against academisation “they had over 100 members”.
Alasdair, and several other delegates, stressed the need to fight the Tories now and not simply wait for a Labour government.
Labour MP Laura Pidcock agreed when she spoke at a fringe meeting at conference organised by the Socialist Teachers Alliance on Friday.
“The time for popular resistance is now,” she said. “There is absolutely no point in waiting for a Labour government. Jeremy Corbyn will be a breath of fresh air as our prime minister.
“But there’s no point waiting for that. Because there is so much that we have to fight for now. What is the point in delaying that resistance when the government is so weak?
“And if there are thousands of teachers out on the streets, it makes me so much more confident to argue for socialism.”
The conference laid the basis for a possible national strike ballot over pay. The NUT has demanded a 5 percent rise, following years of real-terms pay cuts.
Delegates passed a motion calling on the union to launch a “vigorous campaign” over pay. Lisa Murray from Lewes Eastbourne said, “Talking about it is not enough. Members want action.”
Her school is among a group of seven east Sussex schools where workers are balloting for strikes over pay. “Teachers are fed up,” she added. “They deserve better and they want to do something about it.”
The motion also called for an end to performance-related pay and a return to national pay bargaining. Workers passed an amendment that commits the union to “a ballot of all members for strike action, if our demands are not met, at the earliest opportunity in the 2018/19 academic year”.
It said the union should consult members to gauge the level of support for action along the lines of a recent ballot in the PCS union.
Delegates at the NASUWT union’s conference in Birmingham unanimously passed a motion condemning the pay cap. It backed ballots for strikes if the Tories fail to agree to “substantial, above-inflation and across the board pay increases next year”.