Thursday, 9 July 2009

NUT bureaucrats pull plug on strike action

A graphic illustration of the trade union bureaucracy’s capacity for betrayal was seen earlier this week when the NUT’s Action Committee pulled the plug on official strike action due to be taken by the St Paul’s Way NUT group. The NUT group had been trying to secure strike action from the Union since the end of the Spring term when the Headteacher (acting on behalf of the school’s Interim Executive Board) had revealed a restructuring plan that contained a vicious attack on jobs and conditions, with over 20 jobs under threat.

These cuts were announced in the context of a generalised assault on both union organisation and comprehensive education. The NUT rep had been sacked at the end of December in a blatant act of victimisation, management bullying was rife and a restricted, increasingly vocational curriculum was being introduced. In addition, the IEB’s objective was to privatise the school by turning it into a Trust.

As soon as the plan was announced the NUT group called upon the Union to issue an immediate ballot for discontinuous strike action. This was a call that was made several times in various resolutions over the summer term. The national union, however, found pretext after pretext
for delaying the ballot. In the face of NUT inaction many members inevitably opted for individual solutions such as severance, early retirement or resigning.

The ballot was finally issued five weeks before the end of term. The result, though, was an impressive 91% yes vote for action on an 83% turnout. Despite this result and the obvious commitment to strike action shown by NUT members, the Union sought to limit action as much
as possible. Eventually it informed the Tower Hamlets Local Authority that there would be two days of strike action this term and two days in the Autumn.

Less than a week after this announcement the Action Committee recommended suspending all strike action! In doing so it claimed that the Local Authority was prepared to make a significant concession: it would delay by a term the issuing of redundancy notices. The Union had not saved members’ jobs but simply delayed the moment when they would be chopped!

It was left to Alex Kenny, left Executive member and also member of the Action Committee, to try to sell this thoroughly rotten deal to the membership at a meeting of the NUT group on Tuesday 7th July. Revealingly, he did not attempt to differentiate his position from that of bureaucrats like Tim Harrison and John Dixon and defended their recommendation to accept the Local Authority’s offer and call off action. He was, however, unable to convince a single person
amongst the 40 NUT members present at the meeting. Everyone who spoke rejected the offer as derisory and demanded that the strike action continue. Various speakers pointed out that if action was not taken this term, then even more NUT members, believing their Union would not
defend them, would leave the school. The result would be a broken NUT group whose ability to resist the creation of a Trust would be severely weakened. A motion reaffirming the NUT group’s commitment to strike action was taken and passed unanimously. The views of the membership could not have been clearer. Despite this, four hours later Alex Kenny informed the school’s NUT rep that the Action Committee, with complete bureaucratic disdain for members’ views, had abandoned strike action.

The situation at St Paul’s Way provides a clear illustration of the need for a radical ransformation of the NUT so that rank and file members, those whose jobs are on the line, decide when and how to fight, not the trade union bureaucrats (or their left apologists like Alex Kenny). It also makes it clear why it is necessary to take unofficial strike action: if the Union is refusing to sanction action, unofficial action is the only alternative to defeat redundancies and threats of privatisation in the form of trusts and academies. This is a lesson that has not been lost on the St Paul’s Way NUT group: at its meeting on Wednesday the group voted to take unofficial action on the 15/7/09 if the Action Committee has not reinstated the strike.

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