Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/380/4280
NUT leadership wriggle over pension action
THE GOAL of those of us on the Left in the National Union of Teachers (NUT) fighting to save teachers' pensions was to get a national ballot of teachers to join in with a one-day public sector strike.
Linda Taaffe, NUT national executive, personal capacity
But after much hard campaigning by local secretaries, executive members, and other activists, the only immediate action that the NUT is organising is a consultative survey.
Despite calls from local NUT associations and despite a marvellous pensions rally in central London where around 250 teachers, young and old, turned out to demand a ballot to join in with other unions, the union leadership prefers to dither.
At its last meeting the NUT national executive had an opportunity to go with one of three options:
- An indicative ballot with an open-ended time frame (the preference of the general secretary);
- A clear-cut call for a national ballot before Easter alongside other public sector unions (supported by the Left but narrowly defeated); or
- A "ballot of all NUT members seeking their response to a range of strike and non-strike action to take place before the Easter break... seeking unity with other unions... and a robust recommendation from the Executive for the strongest possible action".
In the end the latter won the day. The woolly formulations in this option gave 'wriggle room' - and the wrigglers duly wriggled!
The union's national officers shamefully agreed not a ballot but a survey. Four out of five officers were convinced by general secretary Steve Sinnott to take this line. Only the president Mary Compton voted against it.
It is an outrage for any decision to be flouted, but at this crucial time with other unions poised to go for a ballot it exposes the NUT leadership as both unreliable and a shambles in the eyes of ordinary teachers.
Most, though not all on the Left argued for a clear position (option 2). We believed that teachers would respond to a call for action, especially if other big unions were involved. They were following our decisions carefully, prepared to be flexible on the timing, so that action would be taken on a school working day... but only if we were serious.
If the NUT had decided to ballot, this would immediately have had an effect on NATFHE and then all the other teaching unions would have been under pressure to follow suit. There could have been a national education shutdown. Even the students could possibly have joined in.
Is it any wonder the government does not rate our union seriously? Government policies have lengthened teachers' working day, the previous government lengthened our working year, why should they feel any compunction about now lengthening our working life? No wonder bullying attitudes percolate down through every layer of management and wreak havoc with teachers' stress levels.
Fortunately, this is not the last chance to take action. The pensions crisis is not going away. Ordinary teachers must get active in the union, put some spine into this leadership by strengthening the Left, and de-selecting those who prefer to prevaricate while thousands wait to be robbed by government of their rightful pension.
For more information on Socialist Party teachers, see:
The Great Pensions Robbery
The Socialist Party's new pamphlet
£2 each, plus 10% postage and packing
Socialist Party, PO Box 24697, London, E11 1YD
or phone 020 8988 8789
or buy online
In The Socialist 12 February 2005: