THERE IS a major debate inside the three main teachers' unions in England and Wales about merger. Leaders of the NUT, NASUWT and ATL unions are looking to merge. There is a parallel process of an increasing desire for unity among rank and file teachers.
NUT leaders managed last year to counterpose the idea of a single union to NUT members taking action. At this year's conference such arguments wore increasingly thin. Delegates wanted unity but also action, and for the first time in many years most felt that action could unite across the unions. It is crucial that activists in each of the unions argue concretely for united action and immediate steps to merge the unions. The argument for a democratic union, not under the thumb of New Labour, can be won among the rank and file of each of the unions. But it should not be set as an obstacle to merging the teacher unions.
The anti-merger argument in the NASUWT and ATL unions at their conferences largely came from the right. Left wing activists, who are mainly concentrated in the NUT, the largest teachers' union, cannot risk being seen to echo such a narrow perspective from the opposite end of the spectrum.
Avoiding that does not mean sitting back and allowing the debate about merger to remain behind closed doors among the top officials of the unions. It means arguing among all teachers for rank and file unity as the heart of a new union.
There is also a groundswell for solidarity between teachers and the increasing number of support staff in schools. The teaching unions' campaign over workload, and the mood to fight on other fronts, provide the opportunity to strengthen links between rank and file teachers and activists.