N.U.T. TEACHERS VOTE FOR STRIKE ACTION – over pay, conditions and workload

NUT delegates voted to ballot for further strike action following the expected national pay strike on April 24th
NUT delegates voted to ballot for further strike action following the expected national pay strike on April 24th

DELEGATES at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference in Manchester have called for action over pay, privatisation and teachers’ workload.

During the debates delegates called for mass rallies during the expected one day national pay strike on April 24.

In his opening address, NUT President Bill Greenshields said teachers are asking: ‘Why are they facing punitive inspection, top-down target setting without proper educational basis?’

He added that teachers ‘are resistant to the dismantling of state education’ and ‘increasing control of schools by the private sector’.

He declared to applause: ‘We are resistant to the replacement of qualified teachers with unqualified staff. We are resistant to crushing workloads which prevent teachers from performing as creative professionals.’

He slammed Academies and ‘the government’s political policy on public service reform’.

He attacked the suggestion from the police chiefs’ DNA spokesman that children deemed to be future offenders be put on the DNA database.

Greenshields said to applause that such a scheme ‘has the smell of the police state, the whiff of fascism’.

He went on to call for all schools to be brought into the public sector, and cited Cuba as an example of class sizes limited to 20.

Urging a struggle to defend state education he said to applause: ‘The first blow we can strike following conference is to announce a massive YES vote in our pay ballot.’

He pledged that the NUT will defend pay in solidarity with other public sector workers.

In the Saturday morning session the conference agenda was changed to schedule two Executive Priority Motions: Teachers’ salaries, Workload, Class-Size and Supporting Young Teachers; and The Funding of Education in Wales.

Speaking on prioritising funding schools in Wales, Executive member Neil Foden said ‘a fifth of primary schools are warning of redundancies’ and that ‘we have a significant programme of mergers and closures on the agenda’.

Delegates then proceeded to debate and vote unanimously for amended Motion 15 Young Teachers.

This instructs the Executive to ‘highlight the financial hardships faced by young teachers within the Union’s general pay campaign and to campaign for starting salaries that are in line with other graduate professions’.

Mover Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham, said: ‘Young teachers are leaving the profession.’

He said they are ‘fed up with testing, poor pay, unaffordable rents and the burden of student debt.’

He added that ‘they’ve had enough of excessive observations’.

He said: ‘Young teachers are concluding we are going to tackle the problems with collective action.

‘As teachers vote for strike action, the message of conference must be we are not going to see you driven out by low pay and long hours.

‘Let’s see you all out on marches and rallies on April 24th.’

Seconder Robin Illingworth, Nottingham, added: ‘Young teachers begin their career earning ten per cent less than average graduate salaries.’

In the debate, Tommy Izzel, East London, said: ‘New teachers are looking for action on pay. I’m getting ready to take action next month.’

On Saturday afternoon, delegates voted unanimously for Executive Priority Motion Teachers’ Salaries, Workload, Class-Size and Supporting Younger Teachers with amendments to ballot for further ‘discontinuous action following a successful ballot and day of strike action on April 24th and seeking to involve the widest possible coalition of public sector unions’.

Moving the main motion, Martin Reed for the Executive said: ‘We were right to ballot for industrial action on April 24th this year. We must build on this and construct a public sector alliance with other unions.’

He added: ‘It’s untrue inflationary pressures come from public sector workers, the Bank of England agrees with that. Yet the government cannot resist repeating its flawed mantra of blaming us.’

Reed went on to declare: ‘Workload is an issue of despair and complaint. Teachers working long hours without the slightest expectation of owning their own home is a disgrace.

‘Class sizes rise year after year. Enough is enough, it must stop!’

Ian Murch, seconding for the Executive, told delegates: ‘When a teacher is told inflation is 2.2 per cent when she wants a pay rise and she is told it is 4.8 per cent when she wants a student loan, she is being told less than half the truth.

‘Half of newly qualified teachers leave within three years.

‘Teachers see pay rises year after year rising less than the cost of living. The real fall from 2004 to 2008 is 11 per cent.’

He concluded: ‘The time to act has now come and that action has to continue until the fair pay that we deserve is achieved.’

Mary Compton, East London, moved amendment 1, that ‘welcomes the statements from the PCS general secretary that major sections of that union may also be on strike on April 24th’.

She said: ‘We don’t want a social partnership with a government that wants to privatise education and thinks class sizes of 70 are OK.

‘We want a partnership with other unions and parents to fight for free state education.

‘A politician’s surplus place is a teacher’s decent class size. We want to bring all colleagues in our union into this fight.’

Seconding the amendment, Paul McGregor, Birmingham, told conference the £64 he was fined for refusing to cross Birmingham council workers’ picket line was ‘the best £64 I ever spent’.

He added: ‘On 24th April, I hope we see a fantastic day of action. I hope PCS members and Birmingham council workers will join us with half a million people on strike on the day.

‘Make sure the 24th is the start of this fight, not the end. Further strikes will be needed to win.’

Supporting the motion and amendment, George Arthur from Barnsley, said his town’s FA Cup match victory over Chelsea proved ‘it doesn’t matter how much money or how big an organisation your enemy has, if you are determined you can push them aside.’

Martin Reed, for the Executive, added that the increase in student loans interest to 4.8 per cent meant ‘an average £530 a year getting added on’.

He declared: ‘Because we care we are prepared to take on the government on this issue.’

Executive member Kevin Courtney warned: ‘We are not going to secure the victory we need without united public sector action.

‘The UCU (University and College Union) is balloting FE (further education) members for April 24th action and the PCS has pledged joint action on that day.’

Nick Grant, Ealing, said: ‘We know on April 24th the response will be successful.

‘We need to make the call for a second ballot for further action on the 24th.’

Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham, sought assurance that the action would not just be about pay but also workload and the other issues.

He said: ‘Discontinuous action is the only way forward along with action from the other unions.’

The unanimous vote on the Executive Priority Motion was followed by another unanimous vote for Motion 20 Public Sector Pay Freeze, Teachers’ Pay and Working Conditions, amended to stress that the NUT is calling for a 10 per cent rise and for part-time teachers to be paid the full rate for taking on extra management responsibilities.

Moving the main motion, James Dean, Bradford, stressed: ‘A one day strike will not leave us victorious, there will need to be further discontinuous action. We must fight to win.’

Motion 20 ‘instructs the Executive to approach those unions willing to engage in a coordinated campaign of industrial action to resist the pay freeze and coordinate our action wherever possible.’

Seconder, Ivan Wels, south Nottinghamshire, told delegates: ‘We are facing attacks not only on pay but on working conditions.

‘This government has thrown down a challenge to the whole public sector, and we have been united for one purpose. We need to act together.’

Delegates went on to overwhelmingly vote for Motion 22 Supply/Agency Teachers and a Two-Tier Workforce from the Executive, which amended its own motion to include Wales.

The motion called for equal rights for agency workers and speakers called for local education authorities to establish pools of supply teachers to cut out commercial agencies.

Speaking for the amended motion, Executive member Eddie Ritson told conference: ‘One supply teacher was offered a job at £100 a day while the agency was being paid £200, when she found out she was offered another £10 a day.’

On Sunday delegates began by voting to campaign for equal rights for overseas trained teachers from the Commonwealth.

During a question and answer session, general secretary Steve Sinnott pledged the union’s support for the anti-academies campaign in answer to delegates from Brent, who occupied the site of a planned academy in Wembley.

The main issue on Sunday was teachers workload and class sizes.

Conference voted unanimously for amended Motion 31 Workload that condemns ‘the “top down” target driven agenda set by Government via School Improvement Partners and OFSTED’.

Moving the motion, Andrew Stone, East London, said: ‘Teachers are driven to distraction by unmarked books and intense observations.

‘We should fight for a different kind of school. Teachers are angry because we feel undervalued. Management are transmitting pressures from government.

‘We have to deliver on the promise of a national campaign of action. Keep up the action after April 24th.’

Seconder Tom Wood, Cambridge added: ‘Teachers are fighting an ongoing battle against unprecedented workload.’

He stressed: ‘Every school needs to take action, we need national action. April 24th must be the platform to build further action from.’

Moving amendment 31.1, Liam Conway, Central Nottingham, said teachers are caught between heads and ministers.

He stressed: ‘We need national collective action on workload – a robust response as (NUT general secretary) Steve (Sinnott) says.’

Seconding the amendment, Patrick Murphy, Leeds, said: ‘Workload is worst in primary schools.’

He urged: ‘Take initiatives in your own division, get some action off the ground.’

Amendment 31.2 from the Executive includes Wales and instructs it to ‘draw up a claim for a set of detailed and concrete improvements to teachers’ working conditions’ and to consult members on ‘appropriate Union strategies’ including national industrial action ‘if no satisfactory response is received to the Union’s claim.’

Mover Martin Reed said: ‘We call for detailed and concrete improvements to teachers’ workload.’

Seconder Neil Foden added: ‘We need a proper review of workload in England and Wales.’

Speaking for the motion, Sasha Elliot, Camden, said: ‘Primary National Strategy makes teachers feel they can never get the work done.’

Amendment 31.3 from Lewisham stressed the ‘need for the Union’s strategy to include preparation for industrial action.’