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


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The Independent Online

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.