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From The Socialist newspaper, 23 April 2014

Don't let Gove wreck education!

Neil Cafferky

Hundreds of teachers gathered in Brighton over Easter for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference.

The run-up to the conference saw gains for the left on the union's national executive (NEC), particularly for Lanac (Local Associations National Action Campaign), an alliance of rank-and-file NUT activists in which the Socialist Party plays a leading role.

The growing influence of Lanac in the conference was clear from the fringe meetings and the debates on the conference floor.

Teachers are currently in dispute with the government over pay, pensions and conditions. Conference debate was dominated by the question of the union's strategy in this.

The NUT leadership had put forward a plan of one-day strike action in the week beginning 23 June, followed by unspecified action in the autumn term as well as a programme of consultation with the membership.

To strengthen this Lanac put forward an amendment calling for a day's strike action in the summer term followed by two days of strike action in either half term in the autumn.

As well as this, Lanac called for clear demands to inspire the membership such as a 2,000 pay rise for all teachers.

Clear strategy

Moving the amendment Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies argued that it would: "send a message to Michael Gove, and our members, that we are not going to let him wreck the education system and teachers' lives" as well as "providing a clear strategy for stopping his attacks".

Seconding the motion, Cleo Lewis gave a vivid account of teacher's frustrations with Gove's attacks. Sheila Caffrey warned in the debate that: "We spent months waiting for the NASUWT. This should not happen again". An attempt by the leadership to close the debate down early was defeated on the conference floor.

The eventual vote on the Lanac amendment was close on a show of hands. A card vote was called where the amendment was defeated two to one.

Despite this loss it was clear that Lanac has a large constituency of support in the union. This was underlined the previous evening at the Lanac fringe meeting that attracted 120 delegates to debate the way forward. 50 delegates attended a further Lanac fringe at the end of conference.

A surprisingly controversial debate took place around a motion on discrimination against older women.

The motion was moved by newly elected NEC member Jane Nellist from Coventry Socialist Party. It concentrated on the many different types of discrimination older female teachers face, including employers' refusal to make reasonable adjustments for women experiencing the menopause.

The motion was opposed by the Socialist Teacher Alliance delegates who criticised the prominence given to the menopause. In her reply Jane Nellist made no apologies for raising this "long taboo" subject.

After debate the motion was carried overwhelmingly with many female delegates thanking Jane for raising the issue.

The attacks by Gove on the education system, and the tacit support given by Labour shadow minister Tristram Hunt, have clearly raised the question of a political alternative in the minds of many teachers.

A record number of delegates attended the Socialist Party fringe meeting, the largest in many years. This was on the question of 'Who can teachers vote for?', with Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition chair Dave Nellist speaking.

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In The Socialist 23 April 2014:


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