Teachers union urges 'resistance' on pay plans

 

A campaign of “mass resistance” is needed against the Government's plans for regional pay for public sector workers, teachers heard today. .

National strikes by trade unions should be organised to push back the proposals, which could lead to the "fragmentation and privatisation" of education, the National Union of Teachers' (NUT) annual conference in Torquay was told.

Delegates warned that a move towards regional pay rates is an attack on teachers and part of a Government strategy to drive down pay and conditions and break up the school system.

The warning came as the NUT passed a resolution declaring its "complete opposition to the Government's intention to attack the national pay and conditions arrangements for school teachers".

It instructed the union's executive to take "all appropriate action", including being prepared to ballot for national strikes, if Education Secretary Michael Gove puts forward specific proposals attacking teachers' national pay and conditions.

Tony Dowling, an NUT member from Gateshead, told the conference that teachers are angry, and action is needed to deal with that anger.

"This is not just an attack on pay. And it is not just an attack on teachers. It is about the fragmentation and privatisation of education."

Mr Dowling, who was speaking on an amendment to the motion, said: "It is a fact that we are living, it seems to me, in an unelected dictatorship of the Tory Government. Michael Gove is acting as if he has carte blanche to do what he likes. He knows nothing about education.

"We can't wait to 2015 to get rid of this Government. By then education, our NHS and many other of our services that we cherish will be destroyed."

National action by the NUT last November, and again by London members last month, against changes to public sector pensions were a show of force, he suggested.

"When we took to the streets on March 28, we demonstrated that we could bring out a mass resistance to this Government.

"We need to recreate that. November 30 again shows some of that feeling and that strength because what it did is it didn't just use trade union strength, it actually looked to other campaigns, broader issues," Mr Dowling said.

"I urge you to support this amendment, to build urgently in your local authorities, to co-ordinate action nationally to get out on to the streets and to build the strikes that we need to resist.

"We need a national strike of the union, of our union, of teacher unions, and other trade unions in general to force back this regional pay and make sure we don't have to put up with this dictatorial Government any longer."

The amendment to the motion warned that the move to localised pay is "inextricably linked with the attack on pensions and constitute a further step towards the fragmentation and privatisation of the education system".

Proposing the amendment, Gawain Little, from Oxfordshire, said: "This Government has a strategy, a strategy to drive down pay, undermine our terms and conditions and to break up our education system. We need a strategy to defend our members and the generations of children who will pass through our schools.

"In order to develop a coherent strategy we have to understand the nature of the attacks that we will face. This is not just about regional, or localised pay. If we want to defend national pay and conditions for teachers we have to put this into a broader context.

"The move to impose localised pay is a necessary step towards the fragmentation and privatisation of our education system. As such it is inextricably linked to the assault on our pensions, the aggressive promotion of academies and free schools and the dismantling of local authorities.

"This Government is aiming at nothing less than the complete destruction of state education, delivered through locally accountable schools and qualified teachers."

Mr Dowling said he had been at a meeting at which there had been a discussion about resistance in Egypt.

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak quit in February last year, ending 30 years of authoritarian rule. It came after 18 days of mass protests by demonstrators.

Mr Dowling said the UK could not be compared to Egypt, but added that it was one of the lessons they could look to.

The School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) - which deals with pay and conditions - has been asked to look at the possibilities for making pay more "market-facing".

It is part of a wider Government move to look at regional or local pay rates for the public sector.

The NUT's motion calls on the union's executive to submit a resolution or amendment to the TUC's congress this autumn to develop "maximum unity against any measures to introduce local pay and attacks on pensions".

The priority resolution comes just days after the NUT passed a motion seeking a fresh walkout as early as the end of June over concerns about Government changes to public sector pensions.

The call came on the same day that the NASUWT teaching union, which is holding its annual conference in Birmingham, agreed to escalate its industrial action campaign against attacks on pay, pensions, working conditions and job losses.

And last week the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) passed a resolution at its conference in Manchester raising concerns over the Government's bid to reduce the role of the STRB and calling for the union to "defend robustly" national pay structures for the teaching profession.

Proposing the motion, Ralph Surman, of the ATL executive committee, indicated that the proposals could lead to fresh industrial action.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We're approaching this in an open-minded way and are well off putting forward any concrete proposals. It's a bit overblown to threaten 'mass resistance' when no union knows what it is actually resisting.

"The national pay scales remain in place. We've asked the independent expert pay review body to look at all the evidence for and against making pay better reflect local job markets - as the private sector does.

"We will look very carefully at what it reports to us in the autumn and consult with the profession in detail."

Jane Bassett, an NUT member from Hackney, told the conference: "I think one important thing about our pay and about our pensions is that we need to continue to take action to defend them and to defend the principals of our pay structures."

She added: "This is about the race to the bottom. It is about privatisation. It is about handing over teachers, and schools and our students bound and gagged to the private sector. That is why we need to resist it. It will lead to factory-style teaching. It will lead to massively demoralised teachers. It will lead to a massive recruitment crisis."

The NUT also opened the door today to widespread industrial action over academies.

It passed an amendment to a resolution calling for the union to investigate ways of carrying out strike ballots in individual areas to stop the authority being "financially undermined by the academies/free schools programme resulting in the possible collapse of that authority's education department".

This includes promoting indicative ballots, or surveys, of NUT members in every school proposing to become an academy to see if they would be willing to strike.

The amendment also suggests that the union should look at co-ordinated indicative or formal ballots for strike action across schools in the same or neighbouring areas.

It is understood that the union can enter a trade dispute and ballot for industrial action against an academy conversion if they believe the change in employer, from local authority to academy sponsor, will harm members' pay and conditions.

They could also ballot if changes to pay and conditions were made by an academy that has already converted.

Seconding the amendment, Steve White from Waltham Forest in east London said: "The amendment draws attention to the dangers of the academies and free schools programme, and how local authorities' education departments are becoming undermined. It also points out that it could lead to their collapse."

He added: "The problem we face though, at the moment is what we can do about the continuing growth of academies and free schools. It's a lot easier to fight an academy if you have a strong union group.

"The amendment strengthens the support that the NUT groups need. The amendment also addresses taking action where pay and conditions are worse than the school teachers' pay and conditions, which is likely to happen more and more as academies take root."

Mr White said that in Waltham Forest there had been 10 applications for free schools, of which seven were faith-based.

One free school is due to open this autumn, Mr White said, and will be around 100 metres from an existing primary school. A second free school is planned for the future.

"If teachers had an indicative ballot in several schools around the site of a proposed free school, or new academy, or forced academy, that they would be prepared to go on strike to stop the establishment it would create a tremendous pressure for the free school or academy not to go ahead," Mr White said.

He added that even if it were not possible for teachers at neighbouring schools to strike on this basis, "an indicative ballot that several schools would wish to strike could create tremendous pressure on the free school. Such a ballot could mobilise a campaign of teachers and parents from the surrounding local schools to stop its establishment".

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Schools are queueing around the block to become academies - with the majority of secondaries now converted or in the process and almost 1,800 open nationally, an eight-fold increase in under two years.

"It's bizarre that NUT is deliberately swimming against the tide of scores of schools, week after week, actively choosing to become academies and get real freedom over the education they give students.

"Most parents will be very confused that teachers are now rejecting the chance of independence from bureaucrats and politicians - after years of crying out for just that."

The conference also heard that a group of Birmingham schools that face being turned into academies are consulting over taking action on May 22.

PA

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