10 May sees united strike – but teacher unions shirk their responsibilities

Martin Powell-Davies, NUT executive member

The 10 May public sector strike sent a clear message to ministers that this fight against pension robbery is far from over. National Union of Teachers (NUT) members were not on strike, but some joined a lobby of the Department for Education (DfE) in Westminster after work.

The pay cuts have started – as the Con-Dems phase in higher pension payments – but have yet to be imposed in full. The most hated proposal – to raise pension ages to 68 or more – won’t be implemented until 2015. We can still force this divided coalition to retreat – and we must.

The Easter 2012 NUT conference voted against action on 10 May, with some delegates raising concerns about exam preparation, but voted clearly for the aim of a further one-day strike before the end of June.

However, at the 10 May afternoon meeting of the NUT’s national executive, I was in a minority of 16 who voted for strike action in June, with 24 against.

The NUT might not now be taking national strike action until October or November at the earliest, a whole year since most teachers took action.

The officers’ recommendation did usefully propose that the NUT holds another national ballot for strike and non-strike action next term on issues wider than pensions, such as local pay and working conditions. That action would hopefully be alongside the other main teaching union NASUWT.

The majority of the NUT national officers argued that it was worth waiting those five or more months in the hope of taking joint action with the NASUWT next term. Of course such joint action would be an important escalation of the campaign. However, we can’t let unions who have been holding back from strike action dictate the pace of events.

It was clear from the discussions on the picket lines and rallies that many 10 May strikers had been hoping, and perhaps expecting, that the NUT would be joining them in further action in June. Many will be bitterly disappointed by the NUT executive’s decision.

I have also received many angry responses from NUT members, including from teachers attending the lobby outside the DfE. When I spoke there, I stressed that the conference in Liverpool on 16 June now took on even greater importance.

That meeting, alongside the National Shop Stewards Network conference in London on 9 June, will be a vital forum. We will discuss how we maintain momentum in the pensions campaign despite the NUT executive decision, how we build support to win the new ballot of NUT members, and how we build a fighting union that is prepared to go out and convince members to take the national action that is vital if we are to defeat the pensions robbery – and all the other attacks being thrown at us by this millionaires’ government.

Local Associations for National Action Conference

Saturday 16 June, 11am – 3.30pm
The Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BT

This event is our chance to plan how we are going to make sure teacher unions maintain the momentum of the pensions campaign – and escalate and extend our action to cover other issues too.

Conference delegates need to be elected by their Local Association – but visitors will be welcome too.

Contact: [email protected]