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Building A Fighting Leadership
THE KEY question at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference was: "Can we elect a leadership that will fight against government attacks on teachers?"
Steve Score, in Harrogate
Teachers expressed their anger on issues such as government plans to replace their jobs with lower-paid teaching assistants, inadequate education funding, plans to force them to work five years longer to get a full pension and attacks on pay.
The NUT, alone of the education unions, has refused to sign up to an agreement which they see as 'teaching on the cheap'.
As Martin Powell-Davies, Socialist Party member and a candidate for the general secretary election put it:
"The government wants poorly paid teaching assistants to do our jobs but not on our pay."
A motion was agreed which noted the failure of the leadership to act on previous conference policy and called for opposition to the agreement to be turned into action, including the possibility of strike action.
The conference also reaffirmed its policy of opposing SATs as they are educationally harmful to pupils. But every year policy to take action to fight back against the government is agreed at the conference and then ignored by the leadership. 86% voted in a recent ballot to boycott SATs tests, yet it was not acted on because the turnout was not considered good enough by the NUT executive.
Determined, united action
As Bhasker Badresha from Redbridge in east London put it: "Blair is not going to soil his trousers if he hears we are issuing a circular. We need determined, united action like the London Allowances strike. The conference policies are carried with passion but not implemented with passion."
The desire for a fighting leadership was evident when guest speaker Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, was given a standing ovation. The PCS are currently taking action over pay and were threatened with the loss of thousands of jobs in Gordon Brown's recent budget statement. He said: "Sacking workers on TV is as bad as sacking them by text. This cannot go unchallenged."
One hour of the conference was put aside for election hustings to hear the candidates in the NUT general secretary election. Martin Powell-Davies explained his platform for "a leadership that matches members' desire to fight back against government attacks." He was received favourably by many delegates especially because of the fact that, unlike the other candidates, he is a classroom teacher and he will only take a teacher's wage if elected.
All delegates were questioned, giving Martin the chance to explain his programme for change. The difference between him and the others became clear. He would go to the classrooms to explain the need to fight. One young delegate said that Martin was the only one with "get up and go".
50 delegates attended an 'Elect Martin' campaign fringe meeting and pledged to build support in their local areas.
If Martin succeeds in this election it will the beginning of a transformation in the union which will finally mean a real fight to defend its members.
In The Socialist 17 April 2004:
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