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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 April 2012

NUT teachers' conference

We need firm plans for action on pensions

Martin Powell-Davies, Member of the NUT national executive
30 June coordinated strike action by the PCS civil service union and NUT, ATL and UCU teaching unions, photo Paul Mattsson

30 June coordinated strike action by the PCS civil service union and NUT, ATL and UCU teaching unions, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

The key debate on the pensions campaign at the NUT teachers' union conference was held in 'private session'.

After the strike in London on 28 March had shown members' willingness to act, the union executive's priority motion proposed the flexible formula of 'bringing all other regions and Wales, in turn or together, into pensions action'. Two amendments were carried that added some further detail to that formulation.

Unfortunately, amendments that spelt out specific dates for that action were either defeated or ruled out of order as a result of previous votes.

Conference voted to congratulate NUT members in London for their response to the strike call on 28 March and agreed that, in the light of that strike, we consider a further programme of targeted local or regional strikes in the summer term, aiming to organise a further one-day national strike before the end of June.

A further amendment, agreed at the 'Local Associations for National Action meeting' which had been held on 6 April, added that "we urgently approach other unions who have not accepted the government's final proposals to seek support for this plan of action, and to urgently announce the confirmed calendar of action to our members and the press".

To anger among some delegates at the way the debate was handled, the specific calendar of action in the amendment was ruled out of order.

This followed an earlier vote that defeated an amendment specifically proposing the idea of taking a one-day strike alongside PCS, Unite Health and other unions considering national action on 10 May.

Speaking in the debate, I criticised the decision not to call national action on 10 May.

I explained that I felt we were letting down both those unions and our own members by failing to grasp this opportunity to unite with other unions in action.

Other speakers did not want to agree such a specific timetable at this stage and were particularly keen to continue discussions with the NASUWT before announcing further national action. However, while united action among teaching unions is clearly desirable, I also made it clear that we could not rely on the NASUWT taking action in the summer term.

Conference agreed to a clause in the amendment (again originating from the Local Associations meeting) that said that "while recognising the clear benefits of joint action... we cannot make the willingness of the NASUWT to take part as a necessary requirement before proceeding to call further strike action as part of our ongoing pensions campaign".

As delegates left the conference, there was understandable concern that, while a plan of coordinated action had correctly been agreed, there was, as yet, still no specific dates announced for further national and/or regional action, nor any specific plans fixed for further regions to take action after London.

The National Executive meeting at the end of Conference, on 10 April, must urgently provide some confirmed plans if we are going to be able to build momentum when we return to schools for the new term.

The lack of clear direction has added urgency to the plans made from the Local Associations meeting to call a national 'Local Associations Conference' next term, on 16 June in Liverpool.

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