The vote by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) national executive not to call a national strike on pensions in June was a missed opportunity.
It could have been used to ramp up the pressure on this increasingly ragged government.
The vote goes against the overwhelming decision taken at NUT annual conference over Easter.
Nick Grant, a member of the NUT national executive, told Socialist Worker, “There will be deep anger among rank and file teachers and NUT members that a key decision of our conference has been so easily set aside.
“We need to inspire our members not demoralise them if we’re going to win this fight against the Tories.”
The majority of the executive made their decision in light of possible joint action with other teaching unions this autumn.
The 24-16 vote against action took place on the very day that hundreds of thousands of public sector workers were out on strike.
Many union members already wondered why NUT members weren’t out with them. NUT conference had rejected action in May—although a large minority voted to strike.
But they had overwhelmingly backed launching a programme of action beginning with a strike in June—with or without the NASUWT.
The executive’s vote is a clear rejection of the democratic decision of conference and is a setback for the pensions fight.
The government can be made to retreat—witness Michael Gove’s climb-down on no-notice Ofsted inspections in the face of just verbal opposition from head teachers.
There is no contradiction between wanting joint action with other teaching unions in the autumn and taking action alongside others before that.
And it is not the case that our members are “strike weary”.
In London teachers struck alongside the UCU lecturers’ union on 28 March. And in Nottingham strikes have taken place against proposals for a five-term year. But most teachers have not been on strike since November.
This means that for many members the next round of strikes could take place a whole year since the last. It will leave those in other unions who we have been fighting alongside in the lurch. Our failure to take action this term risks undermining their ability to fight on.
The 16 executive members who did vote for action in June, including the two Socialist Workers Party members and members of the Socialist Teachers Alliance, understood this and are to be congratulated.
Schools and associations should make their views about the decision—and the ignoring of conference votes—clear in the coming weeks.
As many activists as possible should attend the conference called in Liverpool on 16 June by a number of local associations to discuss the pensions campaign and the way ahead for the union.
Rank and file members need to be better organised to ensure our leaderships are properly held to account—whether over the debate on a June strike or any further action in the autumn.
The executive vote was a setback but the fight over pensions is not over—and any suggestion that it is would be disastrous.
The ongoing positive talks with other teaching unions hold out the real prospect of joint action on pensions, pay and workload in the autumn term.
Such action would repeatedly shut the vast majority of schools in the country, which could crack the government and win some real gains for us.
It would have been far better if such action came on the back of united action with other unions this term to give us some badly needed momentum.
But even so, it could be a very hot autumn—one every activist needs to fight for, build for and prepare for.
This doesn’t mean going away until September. The necessary strike ballot to broaden our action to include not just pensions but also threats of regional pay and workload will take place in the next few weeks.
Such a ballot would have to be won by a massive majority and with the biggest turnout possible.
Local Associations for National Action conference: Saturday 16 June, 11.00am to 3.30pm, Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BT
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