“We’re not here to sit and complain but to take action forward”: Rank and file NUT members meet in Liverpool

8 June The following two article’s are from Martin Powell-Davies, branch secretary of Lewisham NUT Local Association and NUT NEC member for inner London. Martin was one of the key organisers of Saturday’s conference.

Over 100 NUT delegates gathered in Liverpool on June 16 for the founding Conference of the ‘Local Associations Network’.

The Conference was called in response to the failure of the NUT Executive majority to call further national action on pensions since November. Every speech reflected the frustration at the resulting loss of momentum but also a determination to rebuild national action on pensions, pay and conditions.

As Julie Lyon-Taylor, Liverpool NUT Secretary and NUT Executive member, said in opening the meeting, “we’re not here to sit and complain but to take action forward”.

Patrick Murphy, Leeds NUT and NUT Executive, explained that “What’s happening here today is a model for how trade unionists react when things go badly. When you have a setback you organise”

David Plews, a Lewisham delegate complained that the NUT Executive “had got scared, but my members didn’t get scared, they want to know what’s happened to the pensions campaign”. Jane Nellist from Coventry NUT explained how our inaction had damaged the NUT’s reputation as a fighting Union and let down PCS, UCU and others looking to co-ordinate action. “Teachers have power because when we strike, people can’t go to work. We have to use that power”.

Teachers certainly can’t work until they’re 68. The pressures in schools mean many are already forced out before the present retirement age of 60. Peter Glover from Liverpool described how many teachers felt they were “one classroom observation from the sack” with constant critical management visits to lessons being used to bully and intimidate staff.

The afternoon session concentrated on building support for the new NUT national ballot to extend our action beyond pensions and allow both strike and non-strike action on issues like excessive workload, observations and threats of fast-track ‘capability’ sackings.

The Conference voted to build for the biggest possible majority and turnout in that ballot, which opens on June 25. The prospect of united action with the other main teaching union, the NASUWT, will help encourage support. But the hold-up in the pensions campaign will have undermined confidence that the NUT has a clear strategy to win. The Conference resolved to call on both unions to implement a serious strategy to defeat these serious attacks facing teachers and education.

An amendment from Lewisham NUT was unanimously agreed calling for an escalating program of national action, starting from as early as possible in the autumn term, and to call on other teaching and non-teaching unions to join with us in setting that calendar of action.

The Conference concluded by voting unanimously for a statement formally launching the “Local Associations Network” and to organise a recall Conference next term. A proposal that the recall event be organised jointly with the Editorial Board of the ‘Campaign Teacher’ newspaper was defeated. Unity is important, but it has to be on a principled basis. Most delegates agreed that giving influence to a grouping that includes NUT Executive members that had opposed national strike action in March and June could compromise the Network’s aims. However, to show the inclusive nature of the Network, it was agreed by that each supporting Association would be entitled to a representative on the Steering Committee.

Roy Bowser, Barnsley NUT Secretary and a miner active in the 84-85 strike, closed the meeting. In his speech he highlighted the viciousness of the present government and called for an organisation that can meet the challenge and mobilise school workers for the fight. Speaking after the meeting, Roy said that the meeting “surpassed all my expectations but more to the point was a true outlet for the way most members are feeling. I think behind the rhetoric there is a real base for a rank and file bottom up push that hopefully will now help shape strategy.”

This Network, already supported by over 30 different Associations from a range of different areas and traditions, can be a powerful force both to pressurise from below for national action and to strengthen organisation at a local level too. Our immediate task is to build for a big ‘YES YES’ vote in the new national ballot.

LANAC delegates unanimously call for calendar of action

Over 100 delegates representing over 30 NUT Local Associations gathered at the ‘Local Associations for National Action Conference’ in Liverpool on June 16 to discuss how to build national action to defend pensions, pay and conditions.

At the conclusion of a day of democratic debate and discussion, the following amended statement was agreed unanimously, formally setting up the ‘Local Associations Network’:

This conference agrees to maintain and build a network of local associations and school reps that will enable teacher trade unionists to exchange information, debate and discuss strategy to defeat the serious attacks we face, call on our National Unions to implement such a strategy, and organise solidarity between local and national struggles with the following aims:

1. Continue to work at every level in the NUT for the earliest possible return to collective industrial action in opposition to the attacks on pensions and for a calendar of action that can secure further concessions from this weakened Government. This must involve an escalating program of national action, starting from as early as possible in the autumn term, and continuing beyond, including strike action of more than one day’s duration. The NUT should call on other teaching and non-teaching unions to join with us in setting that calendar of joint action.

2. Develop a fight back on workload, capability and abuse of classroom observations at school, local and national level based on collective action by members, including both strike and non-strike sanctions, non-cooperation, defined limits to workload demands and spreading success.

3. Identify, develop and spread the best examples of effective, confident organisation in the workplace which can deliver action, involve members and breakdown divisions between school unions, and build solidarity with associations, school groups and other unions taking action.

4. Welcome and seek to maximise the potential of the national joint declaration of intent between the NUT and NASUWT on action to defend pensions & jobs, and to fight excessive workload, local and performance pay, starting by making every effort to win the national NUT ballot this term with as large a majority and turnout as possible. Establish association campaign committees. Organise as many school meetings as possible, preferably with the NASUWT, to build for the ballot and endorse the Agreement.

5. Work to ensure that the joint NUT/NASUWT initiative:

(a) includes joint national strike action

(b) clearly and explicitly addresses the issue of pensions and demands the re-opening of talks with government

(c) leads to the development of rank and file links between the NUT and NASUWT including across schools.

(d) is not used to justify further unnecessary delay in taking action alongside other trade unions seeking to build co-ordinated strike action.

(e) includes far more effective sanctions than those in the existing NASUWT ‘action-short-of-strike-action’

6. Congratulate London associations on organising the lobby of the DfE on 10th May. Commit ourselves to organise similar actions in our areas, if possible with local NASUWT branches. Build the joint NUT/NASUWT demonstrations in Sheffield and Oxford on July 14.

7. Fight to have these priorities endorsed and prioritised by the national union and every NUT association.

From this Conference, we propose that:

A. We agree to set up a ‘Local Associations Network’ from today’s Conference that: 

i) Hosts a website to publicise the network’s aims, to share materials that can be used in schools and associations to build local and national campaigns, and to inform teacher trade unionists about the latest developments in union campaigns, decisions and debates on the National Executive, and about actions being taken by teacher trade unionists and other public sector unions.

ii) is co-ordinated by a Steering Committee elected at today’s Conference. In electing the committee, the conference must ensure that the steering group is not dominated by any particular geographical area or political viewpoint but is inclusive to the range of associations supporting the aims of the network (* see footnote).

iii) produces a report of the discussion and decisions at today’s Conference to be distributed as widely as possible and certainly by associations sponsoring the Conference.

B. We publicise the concrete actions suggested at today’s Conference including:

iv) Sharing and circulating model materials urging NUT members to vote YES in the new ballot.

v) Calling on school groups and associations to lobby their NUT Executive members by sending letters and motions calling on them to vote for national strike action to be held as soon as possible next term, such strikes to be co-ordinated with unions who are willing to take action, such as PCS and the NASUWT, wherever possible but not tied to such joint actions alone.

vi) Inviting Executive members to Association and school group meetings to explain the position they have taken and to listen to the views of members in schools.

C. We convene a further Local Associations Conference next term to review progress made in both revitalising the pensions campaign – and in building effective action to tackle the other attacks facing teachers and education – and to discuss our next steps.

* It was agreed that this proposal would best be met by agreeing that each Association that agrees to affiliate to the Local Associations Network and supports the Network’s aims is entitled to one representative on the Steering Committee, to be decided by that Local Association, and that the first meeting of the Committee should be in early September. (Both articles were reposted from Martin’s blog)