Saturday, 30 March 2013

Conference Report: Friday 29th March

NUT Conference 2013 opened on the afternoon of Good Friday 2013.  Outgoing President, Marilyn Harrop, welcomed delegates and guests.

Marilyn was thanked for her year of service to the Union- and the vote of thanks was proposed by City of Sunderland  NUT secretary, Howard Brown, who also had the added distinction of being Marilyn's brother- possibly the first time that the vote of thanks had been moved by a President's sibling !

Howard commented on how Marilyn has worked tirelessly for our Union over her period of office- both at home and abroad. He also noted that despite this heavy workload she had always tried to make time to attend the Union's advisory committees and specialist conferences.

Her deidication to the NUT over her year of service meant that we all now shared the right to call her "Our Marilyn"

Beth Davies was then installed as President of the Union for 2013-14

The Guests of the Union were formally welcomed, and Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS was invited to speak on behalf of the Guests of the Union. Beth Davies noted that Mark had led 200,000 Civil Service members of PCS out on strike on Budget Day against so-called austerity measures.

Mark thanked Beth for welcoming him to his 4th NUT conference. He paid especial thanks to Christine Blower and Kevin Courtney for their support on the TUC General Council and during the Pensions negotiations respectively. He noted that he and Kevin had often been a "lone voice" for members during the pensions talks.

Mark told us that "if you think you're through the worst, look at David Cameron's reaction to the decision to downgrade the UK's AAA credit rating. He went on live television to assert that the Government had to cut "further, faster and deeper." Experts are suggesting that we have only seen 20% of the Government's proposed cuts.

The PCS is keen to make the alternative economic argument to so-called austerity.  We should break the "Cycle of Despair" by the following steps:-

  • Break the pay freeze for public sector workers and put money back into the economy. The pay freezes have taken the equivalent of £50 billion out of the economy, although bankers bonuses have totalled £53bn. Britain needs a pay rise !
  • Raise the national minimum wage. Already nearly 30,000 PCS members are employed on just that rate. The minimum wage has fallen behind inflation, hitting the poorest workers.
  • Stop cutting jobs. The coalition's proposed 300,000 job cuts are wrecking lives, families and communities.
  • Mark agreed that the cost of Housing Benefit is spiralling. So the answer isn't cutting housing benefits or imposing a Bedroom Tax, but in capping the exorbitant private rents being demanded by landlords.
  • Close the tax gaps- companies and individuals like Amazon, Starbucks and "Sir" Philip Green who dodge tax are the real scroungers !
Hank Roberts then spoke on behalf of our sister teacher trade unions. Hank is this year's ATL president- although is well known to NUT conference as a long standing member of the NUT and Brent Division Secretary. Hank has campaigned since 1996 for Professional Unity, and put his money where his mouth is by joining the ATL and the NASUWT and campaigning within all three. In his speech, Hank wryly noted the "seamless journey" from being an NUT activist occupying a Head Teacher's office and being suspended by Brent Council (and the NUT), to being chained to a flagpole on a school roof in protest against Academisation, being suspended for whistle blowing against a head teacher allegedly (the trial is forthcoming) who had his hand in the till- again a "seamless transition to ATL President"  Within the humour, Hank made the point that this, and the responses at ATL conference to a demand for a vote of "No Confidence" in Michael Gove, showed that our Unions are not all that different.

Conference received the reports from the extended Union family- the Teacher Support Network, Teachers Assurance and the Teachers Building Society.

Finally on the afternoon of day one, we presented the Fred and Anne Jarvis Award. This was inaugurated in honour of Fred Jarvis, our General Secretary of many years, who still attend Conference regularly even well into his 80's, and his wife, an NUT campaigner of many years and a former chair of Barnet Council's education committee.  The award is intended for a campaigner outside of the Union who has campaigned tirelessly for education.

This year the award was presented to Malala Yousafzai. Malala is a Pakistani-born 15 year-old young woman, who believed passionately in the right of all children, especially girls, to go to school and receive an education. She spoke out publicly, and as a result was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban.  Surgery saved Malala's life and she has subsequently moved to Britain- but still continues to speak passionately about the right for all girls to receive an education.  Malala is the youngest ever nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize, and is the inspiration for Malala's Fund- set up by Vital Voices. Please visit their website and see the work they are doing for girls education around the world.

Sadly, Malala was not able to attend and accept the award, but Beth Davies hopes to visit her at school and make the presentation very soon.

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