THE NEWS that the teachers' NUT union will not be going ahead with a boycott of SATs tests in primary schools is a blow to tens of thousands of teachers and parents.
Some 86 percent union members in primary schools voted to boycott the test in a national ballot. The vote passed all legal hurdles for taking industrial action.
But the NUT leadership is arguing that, according to union rules, in order to be paid in full during any suspension from work or sacking the ballot must have had a 50 percent response. That would require 54,000 votes. The actual return of 35,000 is an excellent turnout. Recent teachers' strikes in London show that a far bigger percentage support action when it is called than actually vote for it.
Delegates at the NUT conference in April unanimously backed a boycott of the tests. Since then a head of steam has built up around the proposed boycott.
But the delays in calling the ballot allowed this to seep away, as members lost confidence in the union leadership and preparatory work started for the 2004 tests. The work done by the Anti-SATs Alliance could not bridge that gap.
There are two other factors which helped to reduce the ballot turnout. The most significant is the culture of bullying by school management, which is more pervasive in primary than secondary schools because of relative union group sizes.
Secondly, the campaign required an activist in every school who was clear about the arguments, linked in to a network of like-minded activists in other schools. The fact that this does not exist is both an explanation of what has happened and a guide to what needs to happen.
Teachers need a new left organisation in schools, reflecting the ideological strength of the anti-war movement, and with the desire for unity expressed in new coalitions against the BNP and for a challenge to Blair in the June elections.
Current NUT rules-which go beyond anti-union laws in shackling action-need scrapping. A new left organisation should take NUT officer positions seriously but build the strength of the union at a grassroots level.