Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/751/16081
As Gove attacks teachers: NUT leaders - delay no longer
Call action now
Linda Taaffe, Member of the NUT national executive 1998-2008
The national executive of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) recently voted by the narrowest of margins, 22-20, to delay strike action against education minister Michael Gove's performance related pay (PRP) proposals.
Now a lively, and unfortunately, sometimes acrimonious, debate has broken out among the left in the NUT.
Some believe that most NUT teachers won't take action alone. They want the other big teaching union NASUWT to join them.
Socialist Party teachers say joint action would be great - but no automatic guarantee of success. And, more importantly, we cannot wait.
30 November 2011 (N30) - an historic day when 27 unions went out on strike to stop pension cuts - is an indication of what is possible.
However, this marvellous day was squandered because it was not followed through due to the faint-hearted leaders of some unions.
The result has been devastating not only as pension cuts bite, but also it has helped undermine the belief that unions can ever win, even among some union activists.
Desire for unity
The desire for everyone to act together is huge, and something we try to develop all the time. That is the reason why the National Shop Stewards Network and the Socialist Party campaign for the TUC to implement its congress decision to begin the first moves to organise a national public/private sector strike.
The fact that the NASUWT did not support this motion, even though the usually more cautious and sometimes downright treacherous union leaderships like Unison voted in favour, was an early indicator of their attitude towards strike action.
The NUT and NASUWT are currently running an "historic joint campaign" on workload, which is the number one burden facing all teachers.
Yet this limited 'action short of strike action' has not affected the real workload of the vast majority of teachers. They are still putting in 60-70 hours a week.
Gove has openly declared war on teachers. The coalition defeated us on pensions, now they are coming for our pay, and in some areas are trying to break facility time agreements to further hamstring school unions.
The NUT leadership must immediately put all teachers on a war footing. We recognise that readiness to go for action varies.
Union membership may be high with more than 250,000 in England and Wales, but active participation is very low.
It is the job of leaders, not to accommodate to the slowest ship in the convoy, but to lead from the front and go all out to explain why action is the only way.
Teachers need to know that their leaders are determined, not half-hearted.
The mood of anger in the staffrooms should be the barometer, not the fear at sparsely attended union association meetings.
The union must gear all resources to wage a campaign to help teachers see why they need to be actively involved.
The prospect of real action forces the issues into focus. When our members go on strike it is headline news.
The government and media try to turn parents against us, but we must answer the lies vigorously and go onto the offensive.
Working class parents know all about wage freezes and bullying bosses. Every strike day must be used to bring parents and the whole community to our side.
Once action starts we could encourage unions in other sectors to discuss the possibilities of organising joint strike days.
There is no middle ground between striking and not striking. No smart or imaginative way to strike without losing pay.
Calling strike action means that after the first initial day of protest and demonstrations the real war begins. Teachers need to do whatever helps them win.
Take a leaf out of the book of the battle of the 'sparks', construction electricians. After a long and bitter campaign last year of picketing and determined actions through Unite, they stopped ruthless and powerful construction companies from breaking national wage agreements that would see their pay reduced by 25%.
The NUT national executive members cannot delay. The campaign must get started now. We appeal to all teachers to come and lobby the executive on 27 February.
The executive members alone have the power to launch a mighty force. Those lefts who object to this lobby are wrong. Why not lobby all executive members; why not engage them directly?
Those NUT members in Liverpool can also vote for Peter Glover in the current executive byelection to ensure the left is strengthened.
Some on the left are counterposing a lobby of Gove at the Department for Education on 13 March. This may be one useful way of getting teachers mobilised.
But no matter how many hundred teachers turn out in Gove masks, and get TV coverage, the man and his government are not going to fall down and give in. It is the NEC that has the power to fire the starting gun for real action.
The NUT was formed in the latter part of the 19th century in the fight against PRP at a time when other sectors were establishing unions to stop greedy bosses driving workers into the ground.
In times of economic upswing unions took action to win pensions, holiday and sick pay - and the NUT benefited too.
Now all these gains are under serious threat. The very existence of our union is threatened.
We read with admiration about past struggles for better pay and conditions. It is our turn to continue that tradition.
The most reluctant teachers can learn to struggle - and the younger teachers can learn fast!
Lobby the NUT executive
27 February 5pm, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD
In The Socialist 6 February 2013:
Socialist Party NHS campaigning
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party reviews and comments
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis