Rank and file moderates keep the militants at bay

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The Independent Online
As left-wing delegates from the National Union of Teachers' conference head home in triumph, parents may be wondering whether a new wave of militancy is about to sweep classrooms. It is not.

The defeat of the leadership's plans for one-member one-vote - designed to wrest control from the far left - will make little or no difference to the lives of pupils or the vast majority of those who teach them.

The union's leadership remains in the hands of an executive where moderates are in a majority and they have shown before how easily conference decisions can be ignored.

The fact that delegates voted against the plan to get all conference decisions ratified by the membership will make no difference. Last year, conference voted for a one-day strike over big classes. The executive simply balloted the membership which voted no to a strike by a large majority and nothing happened. It also adopted its own salaries strategy and put in a joint pay submission with other unions against the wishes of conference.

The fate of the motion passed this year saying that members will walk out if teachers are sacked after receiving a bad report from inspectors is likely to be similar. The chance of nursery school teachers abandoning classes of three and four-year-olds is remote even if teachers do lose their jobs as a result of the voucher scheme. Given the Government's difficulties in attracting new private operators, this one is a far- distant prospect.

Delegates ran out of time before they reached a motion urging a boycott of tests for 11-year-olds to stop league tables but it would not have happened. The majority of delegates are now so divorced from most of the union's ordinary members that they seem to be moving in a fantasy world.

The reason for this, as speaker after speaker reminded the conference in the debates on union democracy, is that most teachers no longer have the time nor the inclination to turn up at the local branch meetings which pick delegates. Meetings which used to attract dozens, have difficulty mustering a quorum.

There are three political groups on the left who joined together to defeat the more moderate executive. The executive has 23 members, 21 from the moderate broad left and 19 from the three far-left groups. There are two uncommitted members who are unlikely to back the far left. This year's president is Carole Regan, a member of the Socialist Teachers' Alliance, which includes Militant and other groups on the left of the Labour Party.

One of the speakers who opposed the changes to the union rules on democracy argued that if the changes were passed the conference would no longer matter. Others might say that it does not matter anyway.