NUT must fight Government’s attack on teachers’ pay
Dave Gay and Kate Ford argue urgent action is needed to confront the government’s attempt to destroy the national pay structure for teachers
The coalition government has announced a ferocious attack on teachers’ pay. The government’s plans to dismantle national pay structures, individualise teachers’ salaries and ensure that performance related pay is at the very heart of a “market facing” system.
Progress on the Main Scale, the basic pay scale for teachers, will no longer be dependent on experience but will “reward excellence and performance improvement” as determined by the outcome of annual appraisals. The existing points on the Main Scale, moreover, will no longer be mandatory but will simply become “reference points” so that schools can choose, for example, to pay them in part – or not at all.
These proposals will lead, as the NUT’s response puts it, ”to determination of pay levels at school level.”
Pay rates will vary between and within schools. In addition, when teachers move schools there will be no obligation to match their existing salaries so that “teachers seeking to move schools may be forced to compete with others by agreeing to start at less pay than they are currently on.”
The government’s objective of completely fragmenting teachers’ pay is underlined by the fact that there will be no obligation on schools to pay even the derisory 1% “uprate” on pay to most teachers next September. Secretary of State Gove writes that schools are “free to determine the extent of pay uplifts to teachers within the statutory minima and maxima, and will be able to provide an uplift of 1%…if they so choose.”
The stakes could hardly be higher. Failure to defeat the government’s plans makes possible a system of pay in which each teacher is on a different salary level and where headteachers have immense power to decide pay. The bullying and intimidation of staff that has become such a prevalent feature of schools will inevitably increase. These plans will be a final step in the destruction of national pay and conditions for teachers.
Make no mistake, defeating the government’s attack will require extensive strike action and a willingness to completely disrupt the education system unless the government backs down.
The NUT Executive should have taken the lead on this matter and announced a programme of rapidly escalating strike action with the first strikes to begin in January. Such a sense of urgency and resolve, however, was missing from the Executive when it met on December 14th.
Whilst the Executive agreed to mount a campaign against the government’s attack and identified the need for nationalstrike action, no actual days of action were decided upon.
At the meeting the Socialist Party’s Martin Powell Davies proposed an amendment arguing that there should be an emergency Executive meeting on January 10th to agree “on the date that will be called for a first day of national strike action and to consider further dates that could form part of our calendar of action”. It also proposed that the Union should approach the NASUWT seeking agreement for a national strike to take place no later than the first week in February. The proposal was rejected by 27 votes to 13.
Once again the NUT Executive, at least in its majority, has responded to a serious government attack on teachers with sluggish complacency. Sections of the “left” disgraced themselves at the meeting with leading CDFU members such as Ian Murch voting against the amendment and Alex Kenny, Socialist Teachers Alliance national convenor, abstaining.
In the recent battle over teachers’ pensions the government was handed an easy – and wholly unnecessary – victory by the NUT Executive. Despite two days of successful national action and a one-day London strike, the Executive failed to escalate the campaign with months of dithering and vacillation. The reason why the government has come back to attack teachers on pay is precisely because of the weakness shown by the union’s leadership.
We must not allow such a defeat to occur again. NUT members must demand, in school groups and associations, in resolutions, petitions and emails, in militant lobbies of Executive meetings, that the Union names days for escalating strike action beginning early in the new year.
We must reject the argument used by many Executive members that strike action can only be effective if it is taken with the NASUWT. Extensive strike action by the NUT alone would create massive disruption. If the NASUWT can be persuaded to take action with us, so much the better. It would be disastrous, however, to hold off taking action because it is very likely that the NASUWT will not agree to it.
The seriousness and scale of this attack means that NUT activists must do more than simply call on the Executive to sanction action. Inevitably the question of unofficial action is posed. If the Executive refuses to call action or drags its feet, we need to build action from below independent of the official apparatus of the union. We need strike committees in every school and committees of action in every area that link and coordinate unofficial strike action and agitate for its extension. We cannot allow the rotten, do-nothing “strategy” of the Executive to lead us to another defeat!