Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Unity is Strength

Following the decision of the National Executive on Friday 25th October to suspend the proposed November national strike with the NASUWT, there has been a flurry of debate and discussion, especially on social media.

As I explained to members, I was not at the Special Executive, as it was called on a day of the week not usually allocated for Executive business, and I was committed to my teaching role that day.  My thoughts on that piece of scheduling were covered in the earlier post !

For those who have not seen the official Executive News report of the meeting- I am reproducing details below:

Meeting with NASUWT

The NUT team of Christine Blower, Kevin Courtney, Ian Murch and  Jerry Glazier met with the NASUWT team on Monday 21 October.  In that meeting the participants discussed assessments of the action so far, the talks process and next steps.
Both unions had a positive assessment of the action so far and the engagement of members. Both union teams agreed to bring to their Executives the set of proposals below which included agreement that the 13 February 2014 is the end date by which the national action would take place if insufficient progress had been made in talks.

There was also a lengthy discussion of how to encourage escalation to strike action over school pay and appraisal policies, the possibility of seeking action to happen on common dates in nearby schools.


The following recommendations were agreed: 

  1. The Union in concert with the NASUWT engages in and publicises the talks with the Secretary of State being planned currently.
  2. Ahead of the report of the STRB, an event be held in the House of Commons to brief MPs on our dispute and on-going concerns.  Members will be asked to lobby their MPs in their constituencies, or possibly in Parliament for those members who live in London.  The event and lobbying are to take place in the week beginning 25 November 2013.  Consideration will be given to creating a dedicated micro site for those members who are unable to lobby their MPs in person.
  3. Detailed planning be conducted between the Union and the NASUWT on developing  intensification of ASOSA in all areas but particularly pay and appraisal policies, including by seeking groups of schools to take coordinated sustained strike action where compliant policies are not in place.
  4. In the event that insufficient progress is made in the talks with the Secretary of State, a joint day of national strike action be called and taken no later than 13 February 2014.
  5. Given some of the practicalities of organising demonstrations and other events on strike days, we ask the NUT/NASUWT negotiating teams to identify some possible dates when the action might take place in order to aid advance planning and to bring these dates to the December Executive meeting. 
  6. A further programme of rolling regional action be drawn up.
  7. The Union continues to pursue campaigns on educational matters such as school places crisis, coming crisis in teacher recruitment, problems in free schools etc.
  8. That the Union draws up a general election strategy to seek to influence political parties and public debate in the run up to the general election - to include on-going work with People's Assembly and the above education campaigning.
  9. That the Union reiterate its desire to coordinate industrial action with other public sector and private sector unions and instructs the GS/DGS to continue to do work in this issue including by consideration of joint demands or joint themes of such disputes. The Union to use all available channels in pursuit of progress towards co-ordinated action including TUC, TUCG and bilateral talks with other unions
I was not able to listen and consider the points that were made in the debate at the meeting, but having read the outcomes and heard from various Executive members who were present, I believe that the decisions taken were correct.  There was a vote at the Special Executive (members will get voting figures in a Circular shortly) and a minority of members supported a call for us to take strike action on our own in November. This was strongly defeated. I am disappointed that we are not taking National action with the NASUWT in November, as we had expected to do, and had been building for. However, I do not believe there is any benefit in breaking away from the joint campaign.

I support Christine Blower and Kevin Courtney.  They were sent by the Executive to lead talks and discussions with the NASUWT, and agree on the next steps in the campaign.. Kevin and Christine are highly experienced campaigners and negotiators, and we should back their judgement in delivering the best joint campaigning strategy possible.

We know from past action that, while our members strongly support a call to action, we are at our most effective when we take strike action alongside our colleagues in other Unions.  Across most of my Executive area, many of the schools that were fully closed in October stayed partially open in previous NUT-only action.  The NUT will always be ready to stand up and take action for our profession, even if we are alone in doing so. But the NASUWT remain very much in dispute, and there is still much to gain from this relationship.  If we start pursuing different and separate tactics, we give succour to Gove and his allies who will claim that our campaign is weakening.

The ten points agreed above by the Executive are not a retreat- it is very much an ongoing and potentially escalating campaign- with provision for national action in the Spring term if there is no progress in the talks to which Michael Gove has now agreed.  It looks at escalating pay policy disputes in individual or groups of schools, and activates members into a lobbying campaign- especially important if we are to win public opinion.  And, most crucially of all- it seeks to widen our action, and form alliances with other public sector unions who are in similar dispute.

Above all, the joint working is a small step towards what the NUT has long campaigned for- Professional Unity.  I remember the days of inter-union sniping, and they brought us no benefit as Unions, and bemused our members in staffrooms up and down the country, who wanted exactly the same things as their NAS and ATL colleagues !  Whatever side members were on in the debate about November action, all of us need to continue pursuing this goal. As trade unionists, we are stronger when we stand together !


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