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NUT conference: Delegates vote to keep up pressure over pensions
DELEGATES TO the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference were determined to press home the retreat that had been inflicted on the government over public-sector pensions.
Delegates agreed to prepare for strike action on pensions. A campaign of industrial action on workload and teachers' hours, salaries and conditions, including strike action, was agreed to extract major concessions from the government.
Most teachers attending the conference were buoyed up by the retreat that the threat of co-ordinated industrial action had forced on the government. But they also knew that the government was buying time and would be back with further attacks.
The priority motion from the NUT executive on pensions argued that the government's climbdown came about through co-operation in negotiations by the public-sector unions.
But, as Lewisham delegate and Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies made clear when moving the main amendment to the executive motion, it was the threat of co-ordinated strike action which persuaded the government to climb down.
The amendment stated that "the union will ballot for industrial action unless there is a withdrawal of all proposals to worsen teachers' pensions."
Martin pointed out that pensions secretary Alan Johnson had initially said the increase in the public-sector retirement age had been "non-negotiable". Clearly the government had taken a big step back. "But we have to wait and see how far this step will be".
Martin said it was the outcry from below and the way union members at local level united to put pressure on the NUT leadership to link all areas in national action that had added to the pressure on the government, rather than skilful negotiations. The amendment called for decisions about future action to involve the divisional secretaries of the NUT, as well as the national executive and the officers of the union.
Martin concluded that whilst "the unions had won round one, they had to get ready to win the whole fight". The NUT's contribution to that, he argued, would be to prepare for a ballot for discontinuous action and ensure that the union took action on the same day as other public-sector unions.
Such was the strength of feeling at the conference that although the NUT leadership privately say they are ready to trust the government in negotiations, they accepted the amendment which was passed unanimously.
In The Socialist 2 April 2005: