Andy N, an executive member of Birmingham NUT, writes in a personal capacity on a poor decision by the teaching union’s national committee
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) executive committee decided last Friday against calling its members out on strike alongside other public sector unions on 14 October.
Some 1.3 million workers in GMB, Unison and Unite are walking out in schools and council offices around Britain on 14 October. But the NUT voted 26 to 12 against joining the strike. A significant number of normally left leaning executive members fell in behind the leadership and opposed industrial action this time round.
The executive committee opted instead for an effective reballot of members starting on 15 September. This capitulates to right wing MPs and newspapers, who have attacked the NUT for extending strikes into summer on the basis of a ballot taken some time ago.
The arguments for a pause and reballot are described in blog posts by executive members Stefan Simms and Martin Powell-Davies, both of whom voted in favour of joining the 14 October strike. They vary from the spurious (“other unions haven’t involved us in setting the date”) to the more serious (“our members aren’t ready to take action”).
Evidence from last summer’s action suggests that NUT members striking alone can still shut down 20% of schools and cause very widespread effective disruption elsewhere. In some schools NASUWT members switched to the NUT in order to support the strike. This was hardly an unsuccessful day’s action. Members surely could have been won to taking action again alongside their support staff colleagues.
This is an unnecessary and serious setback for teachers. The NUT’s strikes and campaigns played a significant role in ousting the hated Michael Gove as education secretary.
But while Gove may have gone, all his work remains in place. He was demoted because he couldn’t get through a day without pissing off thousands of voters. His successor Nicky Morgan has made it clear that there will be no change of course in terms of policy.
So the reality for teachers this term is a return to workplaces where the full range of Gove’s pay reforms is now in place, at least in formal terms. Briefings will have been held and performance management targets set, with the new pay policies informing the whole process.
In many cases head teachers will tread carefully, either because of union pressure or because heads have the sense to realise how damaging and demoralising full blown performance related pay will be.
But the longer we delay industrial action, the longer the new policies will have a chance to bed down – and the more we will see aggressive vanguard school managements taking advantage of their powers of divide-and-rule.
All sides in the argument inside the NUT have declared their intention to get a well supported vote for action in the September reballot. This will require time and effort.
But we cannot pass up another chance to take action against this government. It has just lost a vote over the bedroom tax, and may be about to take a hammer blow from a Scottish yes. The NUT has voted to send itself into the sidelines this time round. Activists in other unions considering joining the 14 October strike should take note from this debacle.
We cannot let this happen again. We need letters from staff rooms to executive members complaining about the decision. School union groups should call meetings to discuss the impact of Tory education policies – and why we need to continue the fight against them.