Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/517/3665
NUT national executive: Left fighter stopped from standing
A concentrated effort to prevent left militant fighters from occupying influential positions within the labour movement - usually by bureaucratic means - has traditionally been used by the right wing of the trade unions.
Recently, however we have witnessed supposed lefts resorting to the same methods against Socialist Party members in a number of unions.
A particularly blatant example of this surrounds the nominations for the national executive of the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
Linda Taaffe writes:
With the date for nominations for the next round of elections for the National Executive Committee (NEC) of NUT now passed, it is absolutely clear that a small number of key left secretaries have made it their business to prevent me from continuing in my position as NEC member, a role that I believe I have carried out well over the last ten years.
I have served five two-year terms and in that time no teacher in any of the meetings I have attended has ever raised any criticism of my position. On the contrary many teachers expressed praise for my optimism and commitment.
They have offered thanks that: " You are there for us" in a period when teachers are so overloaded with work that it is difficult for them to take part in union activities, even on the most basic level.
But despite my campaigning record and willingness to stand one further time, the combined left clique came together to block me - in reality to block the Socialist Party and its supporters. They did not even put up a serious alternative.
The joint left organisations, the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA), which now includes the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU) made a decision to exclude me from the left slate.
At all costs they needed to punish me for two reasons. Firstly the Socialist Party's support for Martin Powell Davies in the NUT's presidential elections in autumn 2007. This was after the Socialist Party had left the STA due to growing differences.
Pay and workload
The differences emerged over approaches to linking action on pay with workload - the major grievance of all teachers. Other differences were over the shortcomings of the political fund, where the left and the right both wanted to restrict it to opposing only racist and fascist parties.
The second reason was for my criticisms of the way the left was operating vis-a-vis the right-wing leadership on the executive. For example, a leading left explained that the difference between the left and right is now that we all want the same thing - but the left is just more energetic!
Usually less than half the 20 divisions in the union in Outer London, my area, make nominations. Most of those have secretaries with a commitment to one grouping or another. Unfortunately active membership is generally low everywhere. This very thin layer of lay officials, many virtually full-time, therefore has great influence on key decisions.
The secretary of Ealing, Nick Grant, a long-standing member of the SWP, was the first to pour the vitriol, when he sent emails denouncing me for leaving an executive meeting early (with agreement, as my vote was not crucial). This was to attend a Left Unity meeting at PCS Conference!
He did not, however, denounce CDFU members who remained in that meeting but who did not put their hands up to vote for the left motion on the agenda for action on pay! He vowed that his association would never vote for me, but gave me no chance to come to a nomination meeting to defend my position.
The secretary of my own association, Waltham Forest, is a member of the CDFU (and twice failed NEC candidate). The president is an STA member. (Both are refugees from the SWP).
They both used their positions to move against me. They made it quite clear that this was on the basis of pure sectarian opposition to the Socialist Party.
Their CDFU leader Ian Murch, still smarting from criticisms made by the Socialist Party in an earlier general secretary election, no doubt nurtured this attack. Yet our criticisms have been borne out.
In the recent election for national treasurer, Ian Murch was re-elected unopposed. The right wing found him so comfortable and easy to work with that they saw no point in putting up an alternative! By your friends shall ye be known!
The right wing in Newham, one of the few areas in London still controlled by them, even saw fit to put an STA member on their own slate - which says a good deal about the political acceptability of this candidate to the right wing.
It is possible he could appear on both left and right slates, thus risking the overall strengthening of the right wing on the executive. His previous record has been questionable, since he has supported right-wing candidates in other elections, including for national general secretary.
In Redbridge, the president Bob Archer, a former member of the notoriously undemocratic Workers Revolutionary Party and an STA member, informed me by email in September that I had been nominated. But, mysteriously the nomination form never arrived at the NUT headquarters!
This means that I, a left NEC member, have been prevented from testing out whether or not the members would support me.
So between political spite and plain bureaucratic shenanigans, the same old story that was played out in the Labour Party in the 1980s, has been repeated.
This time it is the left that has been attempting to drive out the Socialist Party - a fundamental political difference dressed up as an organisational dispute.
The left accused us of undermining the "official left" and splitting the vote, an accusation that does not stand up to serious scrutiny. It is also double standards.
In the Bolton area an SWP member is standing for the executive against two "official left" candidates without so much as a squeak of criticism.
They do not mind if Socialist Party members are simply good and energetic union militants but as soon as we want to stand in important elections their attitude changes.
Contrast this to their attitude to the right wing, which seems to be that if you can't beat the right wing majority, you join them. You pretend to rank-and-file teachers that the union is united.
Such is their cover for the right that amazingly Nick Grant - in the SWP's new "moderate" phase - recently described NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott in an STA leaflet as a "resolute" leader!
At last year's annual conference Sinnott's address included a forward by Gordon Brown!
As the STA has accommodated itself to working within the current political framework, for example, not recognising the need for a new workers' party, it has found friends in the SWP, who themselves have been drifting rightwards for some time in their opportunist "alliance phase".
The CDFU never pretended to be socialist, their left credentials being rather loose. Even the renowned CDFU antagonism towards the SWP has softened as their political paths coincide.
When Socialist Party members decided to leave the STA, we made it quite clear that we had a socialist fighting point of view that we wanted to promote, but that we would do that alongside others under the left umbrella.
Voice not there
That was not sufficient for the left. They have made sure my voice will not be there for all teachers on the executive, not because I have been slacking, not because teachers have been critical, nor because I have not supported the left in every single vote on the executive - but because I have made critical comments and supported Martin Powell Davies, who was putting forward a real fighting national strategy.
My criticisms have all been levelled from the point of view of wanting to tell teachers the truth, so we can defeat the lacklustre leadership and achieve a real fighting union.
Despite these events, however, I and other Socialist Party teachers will continue our work as usual. We will campaign with other active teachers in the schools now through a new publication Classroom Teacher.
The coming pay struggles will force teachers to start thinking about how to win against this government. They will have to get more involved with the trade unions and will be drawing conclusions about the leadership.
Against a background of greater involvement of teachers, as opposed to the lack of it at the present time, Socialist Party teachers are confident that our ideas will get a positive response.
In The Socialist 23 January 2008:
Socialist Party women
Socialist Party campaign news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news