Delegates to the conference of the largest teachers’ union, the NUT, were determined to push home the government’s climbdown over its pension plans.
While recognising that New Labour had blinked in the face of a coordinated public sector strike, nobody believed the threat of a rise in the pension age had gone away.
Delegates strengthened an executive motion calling for the pensions campaign to continue in conjunction with other public sector unions.
The NUT is now committed to seeking a “coordinated negotiation, campaign and action strategy with other public sector unions”, and to plan a joint one-day strike if talks fail.
“I believe the government will try to divide workers in the course of negotiations,” said Stefan Simms from Enfield, north London. “But the great lesson of the campaign so far is that united strike action can win. We have to build unity at all levels.
“In my area we coordinated with PCS and Unison union members in the run-up to the planned strike. This local coordination needs to continue.”
Peter Smith from east London said, “The government does not say it is too expensive to go to war in Iraq.” He added that the answer to any shortfall in public pensions was to “redistribute the wealth created by working people so that they can benefit from it.”
Delegates backed improvements they want to see in their pensions scheme, including it being extended to cover part time and agency workers.
“We have achieved a success to get the government to commit itself to negotiations over what it had said was non-negotiable,” said Tony Brockman, for the union’s executive, “but we have not yet won a victory.
“If the negotiations fail we will ballot for action, and it will not be for a one-day strike but for escalating to discontinuous action.”
The NUT policy is now to renew a ballot for strike action unless the government withdraws “all its proposals to worsen teachers’ pensions” in talks expected after the election.
Activists were clear that whether that happens or not will depend on developing the pensions campaign at the base of the NUT and other public sector unions.
For full coverage of the NUT conference see Teachers preparing for a fight