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From The Socialist newspaper, 10 July 2004

After the NUT general secretary election:

What Are The Lessons For The Left?

SINNOTT'S VICTORY was assisted by the sizeable backing that he could rely on from within the union hierarchy. He has had years in which to build support and amass considerable financial resources to publicise his campaign.

He was, despite his claims to be the Unity candidate, backed by the right-wing "Broadly Speaking" grouping in the Union. Of the other candidates, Ian Murch eventually had the support of the Socialist Teachers' Alliance (STA), the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU) as well as the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP).

John Bangs was backed by the outgoing General Secretary, Doug McAvoy. Bangs had the advantage of having most of the media appearances for the union handed to him by McAvoy over the last year or so.

In contrast, our campaign had only a few months to build support for Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies, a candidate standing for election for the first time and without the national profile held by his opponents.

Without any comparable "machine" behind him, Martin was expected to struggle even to win enough nominations to get on the final ballot paper. But his result of 6,482 first-preference votes saw him hold his own and more.

His result is a testimony to the way his stand as a teacher in touch with the pressures teachers endure struck a chord with many NUT members.

His vote translates into nearly 500 votes per nomination - a far higher ratio than his opponents. Even taking account of the respective membership of the nominating NUT Associations, only John Bangs' vote compares favourably.

Connecting with teachers' concerns

ALTHOUGH A majority of teachers may never have seen Martin's campaign materials there is no doubt his programme and platform connected with the concerns of classroom teachers.

When Martin's campaign had the opportunity to put its case, more often than not, we won the support of those teachers attending the meetings not previously committed to any candidate.

The campaign slogans - "break with past failures, time to start winning" and "a teachers' leader on a teacher's salary" - summed up the mood of thousands of NUT members who felt let down by a union leadership that had failed to stand firm against the intolerable pressures teachers face.

Leading figures in the Socialist Teachers' Alliance (STA) - like Bernard Regan and Alex Kenny - dismissed these slogans as "populist". But Regan, the SWP and others who attack Martin's campaign fail to understand how a successful Left campaign has to mobilise teachers by offering something politically distinct from the failed old guard.

Martin's call for tougher guidelines to allow overworked teachers to enforce a real work/life balance always went down well. He also made clear that he stood for "unity in action with trade unions prepared to stand up to a government that cannot be trusted", not least over government threats to teachers' pensions and to bully support staff into "teaching on the cheap".

Every candidate could list the problems facing teachers but Martin's campaign also had a clear programme about the action that could solve them. Unlike the other candidates he didn't shy away from raising the need for collective action and he was the only candidate to mention Iraq in his election material.

In contrast, Ian Murch was quoted in The Times on 22 June: "I don't think we can win on the remodelling agenda by industrial action"!

[Remodelling is the government's plan to introduce 'teaching on the cheap']

Low turnout

THE MOST significant statistic is the overall turnout of less than 22%. It's a clear indication that most NUT members were not convinced that the result of the election would really make a difference to their working lives.

Of course, the NUT leadership's own failures are the main cause for that disengagement from the union. But to combat it the Left must engage with ordinary teachers and enthuse them that we're worth voting for.

Yet, whilst the turnout was, at least, an improvement on the 16% in the National Officers election last year, unless more teachers can be persuaded to overcome their distrust and lack of confidence and be inspired to vote for change, the right-wing bureaucracy's machine is likely to remain in charge of the union.

The Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) have shamefully argued that by standing Martin split the Left vote and allowed Sinnott to win. But, a close scrutiny of the voting figures refutes those arguments - the vote for the Left's candidates was not enough to overhaul the votes of Steve Sinnott and John Bangs.

Unfortunately, rather than learn from Martin's campaign, groups like the SWP rush to condemn it for "allowing" Sinnott victory by not uniting behind one candidate.

Of course, having a single opposition candidate can have clear advantages. But as Ian Murch's previous defeat in the National Officers' election shows it is no guarantee of success. What is critical is having a programme and approach than can engage with discontented teachers and build an enthusiastic, united campaign.

And as those in the STA and others who backed Murch found out you can't artificially create enthusiasm for a candidate. This was especially the case after Ian Murch imposed himself as a candidate on rest of the Left - failing to be selected at a joint meeting in Nottingham last year. Following that, many expressed doubts about his programme and how accountable he would be if elected.

Nor did he acknowledge his membership of the CDFU in his election address, saying he was "not controlled by any party or faction"!

If the same mistakes are not to be repeated, the Left within the NUT need to learn from the way that, at least where its voice was heard, Martin's campaign struck a chord.

After the National Officers' election, Socialist Party members believed the Left needed a candidate who was more in-touch with the problems facing teachers and with a fighting programme and campaigning record. That's why we urged Alex Kenny, the convenor of STA and the candidate selected in Nottingham, to stand.

When Alex withdrew, some on the Left even then threw their weight behind John Bangs - yet they haven't been subject to the same vilification as those who decided to support Martin but clearly called for a transfer to Ian Murch!

Martin's campaign put pressure on Ian Murch to sharpen his programme and pulled the election debate to the left. Unfortunately, Ian Murch's low-key campaign was not able to convince enough teachers to vote for a change. In contrast, Martin demonstrated a commitment and built an authority, which provide a good platform for him to stand again in future elections.

At a fringe meeting at the NUT Conference this Easter, Ian Murch boasted, with PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka a guest speaker sitting alongside him, that the NUT had the most articulate and organised Left in any trade union!

But, unlike the PCS Left, this result shows that the NUT Left still has a long way to go in building its base amongst local Association officers, school reps and classroom teachers looking to build a fighting union. Martin Powell-Davies' campaign showed how an enthusiastic campaign could be built with a welcoming approach and a clear programme for change. Now that must be built upon to build a thriving Left to ensure a fighting leadership for the NUT in future.

NUT general secretary election result

Candidate Round 1 Round 2  Round 3
John Bangs  10,109 11,190  
Ian Murch  15,360 18,643 22,134 (45%)
Martin Powell-Davies   6,482    
Steve Sinnott  20,359 21,533 27,287 (55%)

Turnout: 52,310 first-preference votes - 21.7% (900 votes were not transferred on the first transfer and over 2,000 votes were not transferred in the final transfer).

 

 

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In The Socialist 10 July 2004:

Private Hands Off Our Education

Fight The Job Cuts

Union Leaders Facing The Wrong Way On Labour

Whistling To Keep Their Spirits Up

Labour Tells Blair - Keep Away!

Cops Target Asians

Pride In Socialist Ideas


Young workers

Fight For Your Rights At Work


Workplace news and analysis

Solid Action Can Be Built On

What Are The Lessons For The Left?


International socialist news and analysis

White House Tries Its Creature Saddam

Africa's Forgotten Wars

Brando - A Legend And An Enigma


 

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