Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/492/2560
NUT miss opportunity on pay
The recent NUT National Executive meeting missed a real opportunity to announce national action on pay. Not due to the right wing who traditionally drag their feet. Rather it was to do with the Left being more concerned to get a paper consensus with the Right, than mapping out a bold strategy to defend members. This brought into sharp relief processes that have been developing in the Union for some time now regarding the attitude of the leaders of the left organisation the Socialist Teachers Alliance. The rifts, that started to appear at the Annual Conference last Easter over performance related pay in particular, are visibly deepening
The current multi-year pay award had a clause in it that allowed us to request a new pay review if inflation went above 3.25%. It went up to 4.5% and we duly asked for the review. After much stalling Alan Johnson Secretary of State for Education finally replied. In diplomatic language he told us to naff off!; and furthermore, rubbing salt into the wound, warned that the next pay award 2008-11, which will be announced at the end of October 2007 (almost a year in advance) will only allow for 2% a year. If the quango School Teachers Review Body (STRB) had the inclination to be more generous, the difference would be deducted from the education budget for children. Blackmail accompanied by a kick in the teeth! No increase for the next 4 years, and no compensation for inflation. Teachers, like other public sector workers are having a hard time. Young teachers can't get onto the housing ladder. 70% of towns are a no-go area for teachers wanting to buy a house. Mortgages are eight times a teachers' salary, more in London. Crippling student debts still hang round their necks like a millstone. The NUT Easter Conference had made a unanimous decision with rousing speeches to fight this 2% pay freeze, to go for 10%, and more immediately to get an interim pay review to compensate us for the loss of, what amounts to, £1000 for some teachers.
Given Johnson's arrogant bullish stance, we might have expected a robust response from the NUT by activating our conference decisions. At its June National Executive there was a motion on the agenda to do just that. The same motion was passed unanimously at the Liverpool AGM, and also Lewisham, (where Martin Powell-Davies the secretary is standing for Vice-President). Yet it was knocked back and never even got a hearing, due to the attitude of the two left organisations the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) and the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU). Instead of seizing the time, a ballot is now delayed until sometime in the autumn, and according to the view of the General Secretary probably not until the late autumn, raising concern that it would run into the Christmas period - not a good time for teachers.
It was a missed opportunity to fight for a decisive vote now to go for a ballot at the earliest opportunity in September and bring the biggest teachers' union alongside the PCS, UCW and others, with the aim of being in a better position to co-ordinate action alongside other public sector workers. This would have strengthened the possibility of a "pensions type" public sector response overall.
Instead, a more vague decision was agreed to examine a timetable to ballot at the next meeting in July. This leaves so much open to interpretation. If the Executive would have taken a bold decision now, campaigned vigorously between now and the end of term, and plunged straight into campaigning again at the beginning of September a ballot could have been held early in the autumn on the issue of Johnson's broken promise. This would have had the effect of also putting a shot across the bows of the STRB and government that we are not in any mood to accept their insulting 2%.
As it stands there still remains a decision to campaign further, but unfortunately, with no tangible focus, no date, as yet to aim for. It may still happen when the Executive meets in July, but that is not guaranteed. For, it was not the right wing that was arguing for a delay, and the left to get going now. Both sides were in agreement. The leaders of the STA had drafted a motion and agreed the wording with the leaders of Broadly Speaking (the "right wing") including the General Secretary prior to the Executive– although it is yet to be seen if they all have the same interpretation of those words. But the price of "agreement" included amongst other things, dropping a bold determination for the NUT to go it alone, if the other teacher unions, who are currently in cahoots with government in a so-called social partnership, failed to accept our overtures. Judging by the NASUWT leadership non-reaction to Johnson's point-blank refusal, the betting would be that waiting for them to come on board will only drag out the timescale. And to cement this consensus, the Left had agreed that the mover be a candidate for Vice-president for Broadly Speaking, and the seconder a candidate for the STA/CDFU!
The STA leadership seem to believe that the way you win is by slapping the right wing on the back, getting accepted in the big tent of the bureaucracy, hoping that they will see the sense of your energetic campaigning. What they have not taken sufficiently into account is that the right wing - if they can still be called that – cannot believe their luck at being treated so magnanimously. They still control the majority. They have got the wording that allows them wriggle room. At the end of the day they will win the vote to decide if, and crucially when, a ballot is carried out, despite the glad-handing.
Meantime teachers are receiving propaganda about how bad their pay is. The Union wants more even more information from teachers about how bad it is. However, the issue is not about how bad it is. Teachers know this because they live it. The issue is WHEN is the union actually going to DO something about it. For the Liverpool teachers who passed the motion for action, their only criticism was that a one-day strike did not go far enough! At this moment we do not even have that. So the fight goes on, this time including a serious debate within the Left about tactics. It also highlights why it was necessary for Martin Powell-Davies to stand for Vice-President under a separate banner on the left. We will continue to agitate for the next Executive to make a firm decision for action in September.
In The Socialist 26 June 2007:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
War and terrorism
Socialist students and ISR
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news