IAN MURCH is standing for general secretary of the biggest teachers' union, the NUT, with the support of the left in the union. Ballot papers go out to a quarter of a million NUT members next week. The government is desperate to see elected the current NUT deputy general secretary, who is for partnership with New Labour. Ian Murch spoke to Socialist Worker about his alternative vision for the union.
What state is the NUT in and where would you like it to go?
It is strong in that its membership is large and growing. It's got over 270,000 members. That's an increase of more than a third in the last ten years. The growth is because the NUT rightly criticises the education policies of the present government.
However it is hard to point to any changes that we have successfully brought about during that time. We had opportunities. Just before the last general election in 2001 we had industrial action over teacher shortages and we could have put a lot of pressure on the government.
But we went into the talks that led to the current workforce remodelling agreement. This threatens to replace teachers with less qualified staff. We cannot simply blame other unions-we went into the talks with them that led to this.
Another strength of the union is that it has a strong structure of autonomous local branches and a good layer of local activists. But that structure is not used by the union in any coordinated way. Many people in local branches do very good work-campaigning against SATs, resisting cuts and redundancies, and fighting over the national issues-but they are not supported adequately from the centre.
How do you view the emergence of a new generation of union leaders?
The emergence of this new generation of leaders has not yet turned itself into a strategy of taking on the government over rights at work other issues. I would hope to see that happen if I was elected.
I have prioritised three immediate issues that face teachers and a couple of broader issues that are to do with education. The immediate issues facing teachers are:
The other issues are the break-up of comprehensive education through privatisation, and racism in schools.
I and my colleagues have been active in raising awareness of the danger from the BNP and combating racism, particularly in the run-up to the 10 June elections.
What stance do you think the union should have taken over the war?
It was an appalling situation that despite the overwhelming opinion of teachers that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, the union in the end never made a statement against it.
The most it ever did was vote for something in the TUC. Issues like the war are ones that previous general secretary Doug McAvoy has prevented the union from addressing, when it rightly should address them.
The war is certainly one issue that would have helped draw in newer activists. Younger teachers would have seen a difference between the NUT and the other teacher organisations if we had taken a strong stance on it. And we vitally need to involve younger people.
How is your campaign going?
Given that there are four candidates I am pleased with the number of associations that have nominated me. It is, for example, more than the number that nominated me six months ago when I stood for treasurer.
I have got the support of a lot of the big areas of the union Leeds, Birmingham, Coventry, much of London and so on. The activists in those branches have been working very hard for me and I think I have a reasonable chance.
What would your election do to transform the union?
It may seem paradoxical, but I would not want the role of general secretary to be as dominant as it has been. It was used to suppress activism and the democracy of the union in the past. One of the things that I would want to do is to regenerate those things. A union is only as good as the activity of its members.
Phone 01274 414 664 or go to www.electianmurch.org