NUT conference: time to fight!
THE NUT’S ANNUAL CONFERENCE in Cardiff this year opened with a rousing speech from John McDonnell who outlined the Labour Party’s vision for education, pledging to found a National Education Service (NES) and to scrap tuition fees. He pointed to the work the NUT has done on highlighting appalling funding cuts to schools (via initiatives like the schoolcuts.org website) and said that he was “wearing flares” the last time education cuts were so bad. He denounced Theresa May’s obsession with grammar schools saying, “all the evidence is that segregation in education fails… it squeezes out the poorest.”
Referring to the draconian anti-union legislation imposed by the present government he said that within 100 days of a Labour government being elected the Trade Union bill would be scrapped and collective bargaining restored. It was a wide-ranging powerhouse of a speech that met with rapturous applause and a standing ovation. As one delegate tweeted afterwards, “read John McDonnell’s speech to NUT conference and see why the Labour Party is the only show in town.”
Interestingly the motion to affiliate to the Labour Party came extremely close at conference, actually much closer than I expected it to. The NUT has always prided itself on its political independence but it’s a sign of just how in tune many union members are with Corbyn’s positive vision for education that the executive only just managed to get their amendment to the motion through, which ruled out affiliation at this time. The amendment was passed by a hair’s breadth, 50.63% to 49.37% with some delegates citing caution over the wrecking tendencies of the right within the Party as their reason for voting for.
Key votes that passed at conference were those calling for regional strikes over funding cuts and for a national demonstration in defence of education.
Sadly the motion to ballot members for a boycott of the SATS tests was lost, with some delegates fearing we would be spreading our focus too thinly. I think that was a mistake but we will continue fighting to rid our education system of tests that damage children and narrow the curriculum.
Mid-way through the conference we heard from Megan Charlton, a Durham teaching assistant, and part of the ‘Lions of Durham’, a group fighting horrific attacks on their pay and conditions. Along with the Derby teaching assistants they have been completely inspirational in their resistance and their fighting spirit, bearing up against terrific pressure to back down. As Megan said, “if something is not right, don’t be a victim: get up and fight. And we all know that something is definitely not right in education at the moment. So let’s all get up and fight, together, because together we are stronger and the more we fight, the stronger we become.”
And then on Tuesday, the last morning of the conference, and the slot for Kevin Courtney to give his first conference address as general secretary, the word came through that Theresa May had called a General Election. Despite the short notice, Courtney said the election was a challenge that “our union will rise to”, pledging to make education a central issue with funding cuts and selection at the core of our campaigning.
The message certainly resonated with the hall where the mood was steely and determined. Education has to be at the heart of this General Election campaign - it’s time to fight!