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From: The Socialist issue 620, 14 April 2010: Main parties promise more of the same rotten cuts agenda

Search site for keywords: NUT - Strike - Public sector - Teachers - Pensions - Martin Powell-Davies

NUT conference calls for 24-hour public sector strike

There are two key issues for NUT members - the need for a national ballot to combat excessive workload and united public sector action to defend jobs, pay and pensions. NUT conference this year agreed important steps towards implementing both of these demands.

Martin Powell-Davies, newly elected to the NUT executive

The key amendment on workload was carried unanimously. In speaking for the amendment, I pointed out how the delay in implementing previous conference decisions to call a national ballot over workload had left teachers without the protection they needed. Jim Thomson, a young teacher from Somerset, spoke in the debate to explain how workload damaged learning.

Now we needed to prepare a programme of action which should include both strike action and non-strike action, giving NUT members the power to refuse excessive workload together.

Unfortunately, as delegates have found for the previous two years, passing policy calling for a national ballot doesn't mean it will be carried out. This year, the union leadership had already produced postcards for members asking for their views on what should be 'included in a national contract'. But I'll be pointing out on the executive that the consultation agreed was about the action needed!

A lively 'Classroom Teacher' fringe meeting held after the debate encouraged delegates to go back and build for the ballot.

Later, delegates instructed the executive to organise coordinated ballots for industrial action to defend our pensions before unanimously agreeing a motion opposing cuts in services and public sector pay freezes.

Guest speaker Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, described Gordon Brown's government as the "worst" that trade unionists had ever known. He called on unions to act together as we had done in 2005 over pensions.

Mark told delegates that it "was not our job to tell people who to vote for", failing to address a question raised earlier by Derek McMillan from West Sussex, who asked who trade unionists could vote for in this "Tweedledum and Tweedledummer" general election.

Unfortunately, Alex Gordon, president of the RMT rail workers' union, was not invited to address the conference and so did not have the opportunity to raise the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which Alex supports. He did speak to a well-attended meeting organised by TUSC that evening outlining the seriousness of the legal ruling against the RMT, which had partly relied on harsh EU-based legislation.

Conference supported our call for building locally and nationally across public sector unions, including calling a national demonstration. It was agreed that we should approach "other national trade unions to join with us in organising a coordinated ballot for a 24 hour public sector national strike as a swift response to any attempt by an incoming government to impose a programme of public spending cuts".

Delegates overwhelmingly supported left policies, with the left slate for the conference business committee, including Socialist Party member Jane Nellist, all being elected.

Socialist Party members Michael Brooks and Sheila Caffrey both spoke in favour of the rights of young teachers to propose a motion to annual conference but the proposal was very narrowly defeated.

It is now the executive's responsibility to turn NUT conference's united support for action to defend teachers' jobs and conditions into reality.

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