Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/526/3933
Teachers balloting for strike action
STRIKE ACTION to oppose pay cuts, overwork and large class sizes. That was the main talking point at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference over the Easter weekend. Delegates met as the ballot on whether to hold the first national strike for 20 years was still taking place, and much of the discussion was about the next step if that ballot is won.
The government wants teachers to get a 2.45% pay rise at a time when the all-items Retail Price Index - which includes the cost of housing - is rising at a rate of 4.1%.Teachers are angry at this effective pay cut, but are also frustrated by huge workload and large class sizes.
Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies from Lewisham NUT quoted from a letter written by a young teacher explaining why he was one of the 50% of new teachers who leave the job within three years: "My school gives sausage factories a bad name!"
It was Socialist Party Teachers who raised at last year's conference that these issues should be linked together in national industrial action. At that time we were told that we had to take a "reality check", including by some of the left in the union, because the union would lose the ballot unless it focused on just one issue.
However, this year, it was the outgoing National Executive that proposed a priority motion linking these issues, including to ballot for further "discontinuous action" after the proposed strike day on 24 April.
This would be a huge step forward, but needs to be implemented quickly. After all, the last conference's decision to ballot on pay is only just being implemented now, a year later. Many teachers will ask on the strike day: "What happens next?" They know that the campaign will need more than a one-off day of action in order to win.
David Plews of Lewisham raised the concern that the executive's motion originally said that it would only "consider" discontinuous action. Indeed all references in later resolutions to a specific timetable for taking this action were ruled "out of order".
Reduce class sizes
It also became clear in debate that the executive did not want to commit to the next ballot for national action being widened to include both pay and workload.
However, an amendment, successfully moved by Socialist Party member Linda Taaffe of Waltham Forest and seconded by Martin Powell-Davies, ensured that this became conference policy.
Linda said: "The union must make clear that the next ballot will be for a 10% pay increase and 20% non contact time for teachers. These issues are part of the same problem."
Socialist Party members played a crucial role in the conference in pushing for clearer commitments to action. Robin Pye of St Helens moved a motion on fighting for smaller class sizes, calling for a maximum class size of 20 and a moratorium on school closures.
The executive attempted to remove the opposition to school closures. However, after Robin's reply explained that NUT opposition to school closures "brings on board the parents who campaign against the closure of their children's school, who can be our powerful allies," the executive were heavily defeated.
Following the conference, activists will be campaigning in their areas for a big turnout for the 24 April strike. But they will also need a clear timetable of action to follow on from that, linking their action on all the attacks on pay and conditions with the struggles of other public-sector workers. The newly elected NUT national executive should take steps to bring this about.
In The Socialist 25 March 2008:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis