Re-elect Christine Blower Re-elect Christine Blower

Andrew Baisley on why he thinks Christine Blower should be re-elected as NUT General Secretary

There is an election for the General Secretary of the NUT because Christine Blower is being challenged by Martin Powell-Davies, one of the executive members for inner London.

I am supporting Christine because she has led the union well and made the NUT more relevant to teachers and education than for many years.

Teachers, their unions and the NUT in particular were badly beaten by Margaret Thatcher. The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) began with the Great Education Reform Act of 1988.

Every government since 1998 has required teachers to deliver a standard lesson with little training and demanded ever higher performance with harsh consequences for failure. This has been accompanied by a constant expansion of private management. It’s a well worn path and teachers are just the latest group of workers to be marched down it.

The voice of teachers has not been welcomed by government and they have encouraged (and bullied) school managements into ignoring the voice of their staff too. I could go on and on, but I am drifting from the point which is that the teachers’ unions have struggled to slow this tide let alone reverse it. However, the unions are the only organisation capable of the task.

This is why it matters that the NUT has been growing in numbers and under Christine’s leadership the NUT has become the fastest growing union.

It also matters that there are union reps in school to give a voice to teachers. When she took office the NUT didn’t count the number of school reps let alone try to train them. Under Christine the union has doubled the number of schools with NUT reps, and is recruiting and training more every year.

It isn’t just the mechanics of building a trade union that make them effective they must accurately reflect the concerns of their members.

Christine has done that. The NUT has gone from being a marginal voice under the last government to being at the centre of the debate under this.

Teacher trade unionism is most effective when parents and teachers can hear that we aren’t speaking out of narrow self-interest but are advocating the best interests of education. So I wholeheartedly support the Stand Up For Education campaign that the NUT has launched.

All of these measures have made us more effective but for the profession to be heard best we need to speak with one voice. At the moment there are six teachers unions. Over the last three years the unions have been more united than ever before and I am proud of the role the NUT has played in making that happen. I support Christine because she is working to unite the teachers unions.

The NUT has fared better than most (all?) other public sector unions over the last four years. We have been part of winning some modest gains and one big victory.

The NUT was amongst the leading unions in the defence of public sector pensions, which resulted in an 8% reduction to the harsh cuts imposed.

The NUT put together the coalition that was instrumental in blocking the replacement of the GCSE with the eBacc certificate.

The joint NUT/NASUWT strikes on 27th June, 10th & 17th October 2013, led to the barely independent pay review body rejecting Gove’s demands to remove a cap on maximum hours and days worked by teachers, to remove PPA time, and reintroduce cover. This was the single greatest success the teachers’ unions have achieved since the 70s.

And most recently, Gove has been compelled to offer talks to the teachers’ unions on the questions of workload, PRP and pensions something he was extremely reluctant to do and the NUT strike on 26th March obliged Gove and David Laws to attend the talks in person.

Now this is far from the defence any trade unionist would like to have achieved and this is Martin’s key argument, but I don’t believe his approach would have served NUT members better.

On the pensions dispute, back in February 2011, Martin wrote:

“The NUT has already agreed that it will start a ballot this term but postponed any final decision to see if agreement could be reached on joint action with other teaching unions.

“Those discussions are ongoing – but a decision needs to be made, and quickly. Joint action by the NASUWT, ATL  and NUT would be a sign of strength. But delay to go at the ‘speed of the slowest’ would be a real sign of weakness.”

This was his way of explaining that he seconded a position to strike on 22nd or 23rd March 2011 with only the UCU for allies.

How things turned out:

The NUT did wait and it was worth waiting because the NUT, ATL, UCU and PCS held a strike on 30th June 2011. That strike astonished the rest of the TUC and what had a particular impact was the support from ATL members.This drew all the other unions into taking action on 30th November 2011 which delivered the 8% improved offer.

If we’d followed his advice, I fear that NUT members would have been less enthusiastic in their support and given the weaknesses of the trade union movement that risked derailing the process.

On the joint strike with the NASUWT, at NUT Conference in 2013 the leadership proposed that we hold three regional strikes on 27th June, 10th October and 17th October with the NASUWT.

Martin proposed that the NUT should strike alone on 26th June as well.

My view is that an NUT only strike would have been at best pointless and would have muddled the message about the joint campaign. As it turned out his doubts about the leadership’s strategy were misplaced the strikes were well supported and as consequence Gove had all his proposals rejected by the pay review body. They could see how angry teachers were.

I think the proof that the NUT has got it about right is that every time the NUT has called action it has been well supported and effective. There isn’t a magic wand that can right all ills, tempting though it is to wish for one. There is a long way to go before teachers are listened to with respect by government but we are headed in the right direction and are making progress.

If you’re an NUT member, please vote Christine Blower 1.

From Andrew’s NUT blog