NUT must fight Government’s attack on teachers’ pay

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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!

 

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2 Comments

  1. John Grimshaw
    January 7, 2013 at 10:05 am · Reply

    An interesting article appeared in this weeks (4/1/13) Times Educational Supplement (TES), a education newspaper aimed at schools but largely expressing the views of mainstream managers. The title of the article is “Unions dust off their placards and prepare for national strike” which rather suggests that strike is imminent. However a cursory glance at the article shows that the bosses are rather better informed. We are told that the NUT executive has agreed to build towards strike action in the spring term and that they have agreed to approach the NASUWT in January. This of course is a much better description of what seems to be going on than the somewhat “attention grabbing” title. Later on the TES says that they have spoken to Kevin Courtney (DGS) and that he says the NASUWT will be consulted before taking any decisions. Tellingly, the TES says, “The NASUWT declined to comment.”

    So in essence the NUT executive, the leaders of the countries “most militant” classroom teacher’s union have agreed to fudge rather than provide the decisive leadership which should be expected of them. Kate and Dave could’ve pointed out by the way that the majority decision of the executive to do nothing was at the recommendation of both the General Secretary and the Deputy General Secretary (who can’t vote). Furthermore this inability to lead is clearly available for Gove et al. to see. And its not difficult to see what conclusions they will draw from this. Interestingly, before Christmas those within the union who supported the majority decision of the executive were saying that it was good not to be too rash as teachers were being drawn into a trap by Gove. In my view the lack of decisive action will merely hasten Gove’s attacks. It would seem that the NUT’s “left” leadership has become a living lesson of what happens when socialists (revolutionaries?…whichever title you prefer) become obssessed with aquiring and maintaining positions of power within trades unions.

  2. David
    January 25, 2013 at 1:09 pm · Reply

    The NUT executive have just voted against taking strike action in March (22 votes against action – 20 in favour)

    This is unbelievable – Gove is attacking teachers and state education head on and the union does nothing – it’s pathetic.

    What exactly is the point of the NUT? Teachers will have to realise that as well as fighting the obvious enemy – the Tories and school managements they will also have to fight ‘the enemy within’ – the trade union bureaucrats.

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