Chalk Talk: Mr Strike and some signs of the times at the NUT conference


Back from the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Brighton, where teachers have been in the grip of election fever. The election of their general-secretary takes place this summer.

Standing as the left's candidate is the current general-secretary, Christine Blower, who was once sidelined by one of her predecessors, the more pragmatic – right-wing in some people's eyes – Doug McAvoy, when she worked as his deputy because he considered her too left-wing.

Standing against her is someone best described as the left-of-left candidate, Martin Powell-Davies, from Lewisham, South-east London, standing on a platform of firmer and stronger industrial action against Michael Gove's school reforms.

Things reached fever pitch when the conference president, Max Hyde, chided the union's former general-secretary, Fred Jarvis, in his 60th year of NUT conferences (almost twice as many as me!) for having a pop at Powell-Davies when presenting an award at the conference. It was conduct unbecoming to criticise a comrade, apparently.

As to what will happen, well, a clue probably emerged in the debate over strikes. Powell-Davies's call for more militant action was defeated by 158,000 votes to 87,000. Expect a similar vote in the election.

Retaining its reputation for militancy, the Socialist Workers' Party held a fringe meeting at the conference. The guest speaker was the appropriately named Mr Strike (Norman Strike, a former miner).

Seems churlish to mention it, but I did spot a couple of spelling mistakes at the conference, like a board in the Grand Hotel signposting the way to the "Press Drink's" (could have been a hotel employee, I suppose). Then, in a conference motion, there was reference to a union called "NASWUT". I think I prefer it to the NASUWT – it trips off the tongue better.