This is a quick report from Thursday’s National NUT Executive and May 10 public sector strikes,
May 10 strikes – united to defend pensions… but the NUT Executive shirks its responsibilities
The May 10 strike by up to half a million public sector trade unionists has given renewed momentum to the campaign to defend pensions and sent a clear message to Ministers that this fight is far from over. Across the country, civil servants, lecturers, healthworkers and others took widespread official strike action. They were joined by thousands of prison officers who also walked out in protest at having to work until 68 or more, despite such action by prison officers being deemed ‘illegal’. Tens of thousands of police officers even took to the streets of London to protest against cuts. Strikers gathered for a demonstration outside St.Thomas Hospital, which then joined the main London Rally in Westminster. NUT members from South London Associations, who were able to be released from work, marched with them too. NUT members were not on strike today, but teachers joined a Lobby of the Department of Education after work to show their opposition to the pay cuts inflicted from last month through rising pension contributions – as well as the outrage of having to work until 68 or more – a major theme of the day’s national action.NUT Conference had voted against action on May 10, with some delegates raising concerns about clashing with exam preparation, but had voted clearly for a motion calling on the Union to aim to organise a further one day strike before the end of June 2012, with or without the NASUWT. However, at the meeting of the NUT’s National Executive that afternoon, an objection tabled to oppose the National Officers’ regrettable recommendation that we do NOT take action in June was defeated – on a vote of 24 to 16. Alex Kenny and I were among that minority of 16 who voted for strike action to be called in June.The NUT will not now be taking national strike action until October or November at the earliest, a whole year since most teachers took national action.The Officers’ recommendation did usefully propose that the NUT holds another national ballot to allow us to take strike and non-strike action next term on issues wider than pensions, such as the threats to introduce local pay and to mount further attacks on our working conditions. That action would hopefully be alongside the other main teaching union, the NASUWT.
However, I saw no good reason why this wider action ballot needed to be counter posed to the NUT taking further strike action on pensions in June – without the NASUWT – in line with Conference policy.As I said at the Executive, on the very day that spirits had been lifted by the May 10 strike action, the NUT was in danger of dragging the movement downwards by postponing further national strike action for five months or more. It was clear from the discussions on the picket-lines and strike rallies that many of today’s strikers had been hoping, and perhaps expecting, that the NUT would be joining them in further action in June. Many will be bitterly disappointed by the NUT Executive’s decision.The majority of the NUT National Officers argued that it was worth waiting those five or more months in the hope of taking joint action with the NASUWT next term. Of course such joint action would be an important escalation of the campaign but, by delaying until then, I warned that we weren’t just asking NUT members to stand down for many months more. We were, in reality, making it likely that the unions who took such widespread action today might also be forced to stand down their members too – while waiting for the teachers’ unions to join them. That could seriously dent morale and dissipate the momentum generated by today’s successful action.I have already received many angry responses from NUT members to the news from today’s Executive, including from teachers attending the Lobby outside the DfE. When I spoke there, I stressed that the LANAC Conference in Liverpool on June 16 now took on even greater importance. That meeting, alongside the National Shop Stewards Network Conference in London on June 9, will be a vital forum to discuss how we maintain momentum in the pensions campaign despite today’s NUT Executive decision, how we build support to win the new ballot of NUT members, and how we build a fighting union that is prepared to go out and convince members to take the national action that is vital if we are to defeat the pensions robbery – and all the other attacks being thrown at us by this millionaires’ Government.