The NUT conference captured the angry mood among teachers over the Tories' academies plans, reports Tony Dowling
"If ever there was a campaign that had 'victory' written all over it, it is your campaign against forced academies."
So said PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka at a fringe meeting on the opening day of NUT conference. A meeting very appropriately entitled 'Seize the Day'!
Just two days after the magnificent hastily-organised teachers' protests all across the country last week against the government’s proposal of forced academisation; and only a week after Iain Duncan Smith's resignation over Osborne's shambolic budget and the Tories' civil war over the EU, 'seizing the day' must also become the mantra of the whole movement.
At the electrifying meeting, Dr Yannis Goutrosyannis of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee said, "doctors and teachers are probably the last custodians of the post-war democratic settlement."
And he presented NUT General Secretary Christine Blower with a letter, signed by more than 2000 junior doctors, expressing solidarity with the teachers in their fight against forced academisation. Chants of "doctor's and teachers, unite and strike" spontaneously erupted.
But this was nothing compared the rapturous applause with which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was received when he addressed conference earlier in the day. Greeted like a returning hero and long lost friend when he entered the conference hall in Brighton, he promised to consult teachers, parents and pupils on the Tories' plans for "asset-stripping of our education system” through academisation.
It was the first time that a Labour leader has addressed the NUT, and it is difficult to recall a time when the leader of the Labour party has said so much that demonstrated that they were actually on the same side and struggling for the same aims as working people and their organisations.
Recognising that academisation was the first step towards privatisation of education, Mr Corbyn said: "it’s about breaking national pay bargaining, expanding the use of unqualified teachers, driving down pay, driving down terms and conditions and driving down standards."
It was this very attack on pay bargaining in the Education White Paper that forced the NUT, in the first of three priority Executive motions brought to conference to "declare a dispute with the Secretary of State" and to pass a motion calling to ballot for strike action before the summer holidays.
And further, conference agreed to approach ATL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, UNISON and UNITE "to seek agreement on a common plan for a ballot for discontinuous strike and non strike action and then seek to coordinate further strikes in the autumn term."
The angry and combative mood of teachers, frustrated at the Tories' 'exam factories' approach to education saw further motions calling for boycotts of primary assessment and baseline assessment of 4 year-olds.
Much work will be needed by teachers to ensure the turnout and support to win these ballots and turn the anger and frustration into action. However, the potential rewards could not only save our education system, but turn the tide on Morgan, Osborne, Cameron and the Tories' assault on public services.
As Alex Snowdon noted elsewhere, through mass mobilisations and solidarity with the junior doctors' strikes, aligned with a combative, left-wing Labour leadership, we can drive the Tories deeper into crisisand raise the possibility of this government's collapse.
And even before the ballots for strike action, teachers have a magnificent opportunity to begin to build that support. We should go all out to organise a massive 'education bloc' on the The People's Assembly's national demonstrationfor Health, Homes, Jobs and Education on 16th April.
At the NASUWT teachers' conference Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told delegates that "there is no reverse gear when it comes to our education reforms."
We must make sure that we win the ballots for action and put a roadblock across the route to her reforms and show that another world and another education is possible.
Tony Dowling is a teacher, socialist, trade unionist, antifascist, anti-war & anti-cuts activist. He is currently chair of North East People's Assembly and a member of Counterfire.
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