Saturday, January 19, 2013

Packed London NUT Briefing calls for strike action against PRP

Nearly 300 NUT Representatives from schools right across the London area packed into the NUT's national headquarters at Hamilton House this morning (Jan 19) for the London Regional Briefing about our campaign to oppose Gove's Performance Related Pay plans.

The huge turnout on a wintry Saturday spoke volumes about the determination of teachers to fight Gove's attacks. The frequent applause for reps calling for national strike action also made clear what the meeting wanted the National Executive to vote for when we meet again this Thursday (Jan 24).

Big Brother Gove was watching

Standing room only in NUT HQ

Teachers packing into the Mander Hall were met by the 'Big Brother' face of Michael Gove staring down at them. As NUT General Secretary Christine Blower introduced the discussion, reps were still arriving, with yesterday's snow causing some transport disruptions. More chairs had to be found and, when they were filled, it became 'standing room only' !

Christine went through the detail of Gove's attacks, pointing out that incremental pay progression had been a feature of teachers' pay structures since the 1920s. Now Gove wants to make all progression dependent on 'performance'. Linking the two main battles we are engaged in, she also pointed out that slower progression up the pay scale through PRP would also mean a lower career average pension on retirement.

Most of the two-hour meeting was then thrown over to the floor and, in a broad and open discussion, rep after rep had the chance to explain their views. 

No return to 'Victorian values' ! 

Many speakers pointed out the damage that PRP would cause to education, and how we had to get that message out to parents. For example, one rep warned that performance-pay would drive even more qualified teachers out of the profession - allowing Gove to get away with his plans to allow schools to employ lower-paid non-teacher qualified staff instead.

Kevin Courtney and others on the STOPP protest against PRP in 2000

To huge applause, Cleo, a Greenwich teacher, echoing the disastrous 'payment-by-results' schemes of the Victorian era, summed up the realities of Gove's plans - "I'll need my 7 year-olds to understand every lesson - because if they don't understand, I won't be able to afford to eat"

Louise Cuffaro from Newham was one of a number of reps who explained how the 'brutality' of management in some schools was fuelling teachers' anger. Another speaker proposed that the Union gather together compelling accounts to explain to parents and the press what PRP would mean for schools.

Not just protest action - what about escalating to a 48-hour strike?

Louise, like many other reps, concluded their remarks by calling on the National Executive to vote for national strike action - and not just for a one-day 'protest' but for an ongoing programme of action.

There was a clear understanding that one-day's action would not be enough. Some reps proposed calling rolling regional strike action but others argued against, pointing out that it was national strike action that really grabbed the headlines. In choosing between those options, most applause was given to reps who proposed escalating from an initial one-day action to a further 48-hour strike.

While most speakers explained that they were confident of members' support for action, a couple of reps spoke to explain that they were finding it harder to engage members in their school . The facts and arguments from the briefing will certainly need to be taken out to members in every school, in every Association and Region. One rep spoke to say he'd be doing exactly that, having been "inspired" by the mood of the meeting - and he won't have been alone.

The NUT Executive must vote for action on Thursday!

Hands-up in support of national strike action !
National Executive members were invited to speak at the end of the meeting. I took the opportunity to respond to two issues that had been raised. 

Firstly, I agreed that reps had been right to say that we needed to go out and explain our case to the public. I pointed to the 'message to parents' on the latest Classroom Teacher ( ) as one example of what we could be distributing. However,  I, and other NEC colleagues, called on reps to approach the public with confidence, remembering the support our pensions action in 2011 had received from most parents. After all, opinion polls show the public trust teachers a lot more than they trust politicians!

Secondly, I responded to the understandable disappointment from some reps that the NASUWT had made clear that they were not prepared to take strike action at this stage. Regrettably, I explained that we had to recognise that their leadership seem unlikely to shift that position at present. However, if we give a lead, as we did over pensions in June 2011, they may be forced to reconsider. As we were already finding in Lewisham, some NASUWT members may well vote with their feet and join the NUT. Outer London NUT Executive member, Dave Harvey, made a similar point and also spelt out that the Executive were considering calling action on March 13, to coincide with a Europe-wide Day of Action against Austerity.

Finally, and above all, I thanked reps for turning out and making their voices clear. Today's turnout will send an important message to National Union Officers and the National Executive teachers ARE ready to act !

As the meeting drew to a close, Marilyn Bater from the Chair asked those in support of national strike action to raise their hands. The vote seemed to be unanimous! Surely everyone on the NUT National Executive will now take note and vote for national strike action when we meet on Thursday?!

YES to national strike action to stop Gove !
Make sure to contact your National Executive members before Thursday's meeting and tell them you're expecting them to vote for national strike action to start in March!

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