The TUC demo on 26 March started to mobilise people for what everyone knew would be the battle ahead. Better organised schools had delegations on the demo and returned back to school more confident that they were part of a much bigger movement.
But the real momentum started after NUT conference over Easter, spurred on by the fact that another teaching union, the ATL, had voted unanimously to ballot for strike action. This is a union that has never taken strike action in its 127-year history. The feeling was, if they are prepared to strike then things have really shifted.
We had a joint NUT/ATL reps training event a week after Easter which was very well attended. The questions and contributions from the floor showed how determined people were to win a good yes vote. Reps agreed not just to hold meetings in their own schools, but some offered to speak at other schools as well. A retired member took away a list of schools to visit where there was no named rep with a view to making contact with the NUT members and finding someone to be the school rep.
In the last six weeks more teachers have joined the NUT than I have ever known, but also more teachers are becoming actively involved in the union for the first time.
The day after the joint reps training I received an email from a member who said he was the new rep. Two hours later he emailed again to say he had recruited three new members to the NUT, and then the following day he emailed again to ask whether, if 90 percent of the teachers were in the NUT, would they have to close the centre on the 30 June? This was a Pupil Referral Unit which had little or no NUT presence a year ago.
As the government is also planning to throw teachers in the private schools out of the teachers’ pension scheme, we are seeing private schools getting organised. One of the strangest experiences was when we were invited to a very posh private school to speak to a whole staff meeting about the ballot and proposed strike.
The ATL national exec member started off by saying he had voted Tory all his life, and how could all those cabinet ministers who had been educated in private schools then start attacking the same system that had given them their privileges. Then the head teacher urged every ATL and NUT member to vote Yes. I am fundamentally against private schools but I do like the idea of a picket line outside places like Eton.
The moment the ballot result was announced, I texted and emailed round all the reps and activists to share the fantastic news. We had opened up our normal committee meeting to all NUT members the day after the result. We normally get six or eight at these meetings. I had to stop counting after 25 as it was standing room only.
I shared my map with the meeting. It has all the schools in the area and, in typical teacher style, I had different stickers showing schools I knew would close, those that had reps and those that needed a visit. After the meeting half a dozen people stayed behind and each took away a list of schools in their own area. The following day I had a call from one of those reps who said she had contacted all the members in all the schools I had given her and could she have some more please.
The experience of the PCS members is important to share with teachers. They have had six national ballots over the last few years. A PCS member came to our last regional executive meeting and talked about the importance of picket lines. It gave me more confidence to argue with teachers that they ought to have picket lines, even if schools are closed. It gives a visible presence and involves people – vital if we are going to rebuild rank and file organisation and confidence.
Finally, it is also important people don’t just see us as good trade union organisers, but realise we are good trade union organisers because we are part of a revolutionary party. The simple way to do this is to make sure we sell Socialist Worker whenever we can. OK, back to my map of classroom struggle.
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