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NUT strikes over pay


As Workers goes to press, school teachers were due to stage their first strike action over pay for 21 years, on 24 April. Members of the National Union of Teachers voted 3 to 1 in favour of strike action in a 32 per cent turnout. Leaders of the other teaching unions have accepted the pay offer of 2.45 per cent this year in a settlement amounting to 7.05 per cent over three years.

The NUT points out that the true inflation rate is well above this level, with housing, fuel and food costs rocketing and young teachers with big student debts unable to manage on their pay. This year has seen a significant decrease in teacher training applications – a dangerous sign for the health of the education system.

The NUT has built a good campaign to encourage its 200,000 members to come out on the day, producing useful materials for local associations to use, focusing on the pay issue and avoiding the ultra-left trap of turning the strike into one about a long list of gripes. The challenge is to achieve united collective action within the NUT at least – something teachers have not done for a long while. A large number of regional events and rallies are being held on the day. The union is not calling for picket lines to be set up outside schools – the "virtual" picket line inside the school being much more effective.

Many members of the other teaching unions are angry their unions have not joined the action, but they have not forced the issue so have themselves to blame. Most local authorities are likely to advise against disciplining non-NUT staff who join the strike or refuse to cover for striking colleagues, hoping this will be a flash in the pan, and aware that many schools will close anyway.

The tragic sudden death in March of Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary, has not been allowed to weaken the campaign. Other weaknesses are clear. Only six of the 83 semi-independent academy schools could be balloted, because they do not work to national pay norms.

School teachers' pay is determined by the School Teachers' Review Body without negotiation, leaving the unions having to react instead of setting the agenda. This will have to be dealt with for teachers to move forward. Other teaching unions remain in the government's pocket, working in "partnership" to betray members' interests unchallenged by their membership. The NUT will have to lead the way.