With one week left in the National Union of Teachers General Secretary election, NUT activist Rob Owen, asks how those on the radical left ought to vote
The NUT has been one of the few unions to hold the line in the pensions dispute. Almost alone we have continued to strike and organised impressive demonstrations and public campaigns. Our union has also shifted left. We have passed progressive positions on immigration and welfare and retained a strong internationalism. Voices on the right are marginal and their presence in national debates often negligible.
The shift to the left is shown by the candidates in our General Secretary (GS) election. Our incumbent, Christine Blower, came from the soft left ‘Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union’ (CDFU). She is being challenged by Inner London NEC member Martin Powell-Davis. Martin convenes the ‘Local Associations National Action Campaign’ (LANAC) and is a member of the Socialist Party.
The two candidates represent two sides of a debate that has been dominating NUT discussions. Christine, along with the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA), has headed up the strategy of coordinated strike action as part of a wider political campaign. At first this was based on the centrality of an alliance with the NASWUT, the second largest teachers union. This alliance saw a number of regional strikes before culminating in the NUT striking alone this spring. The political case for voting for Christine is well made by key STA member Andrew Baisley here. Yet his account glosses over some important details. Primarily that the repeated delays to action (made to keep the NASWUT on board) left our action falling far short of what was needed to win.
A left-wing opposition
For the last two years a more radical left has been forming in the NUT. A third of our conference has twice voted for a more robust campaign of strike action. The votes for naming an additional national day of strike action in 2013 and for escalating action in 2014 were opposed by both the STA and the CDFU. Both votes were headed up by Martin Powell-Davies and the alliance around LANAC. LANAC, which formed to organise for the revival of national action in 2012, has developed into a sizeable network. Although silent on wider political issues it is beginning to bring together many of the unions most radical activists.
At conference this year the turnout to the LANAC fringe meeting that had Martin talking on organising to win equalled that of the STA/CDFU fringe it clashed with. This was despite the STA/CDFU meeting having Owen Jones, Christine Blower and Caroline Lucas on the platform. LANAC is beginning to group together those inside the NUT who want to step up the action to defeat Gove.
Why Martin Powell-Davies?
Martin is the most prominent figure pressing hard for escalation. While the Socialist Party itself has an uninspiring record on wider political issues this election will be fought over the national strategy. The size of Martin’s vote will be used to judge the support for stepping up our action. A strong vote will strengthen the left and encouraging a vote for Martin in schools can be used to discuss the sort of action we need to win.
Defending our union’s record
While supporting Martin we need to be clear that neither the STA nor Christine represent the right. They have sustained action and promoted a vision of ‘social movement trade unionism’ inspired by the Chicago Teachers Strike. While we may disagree with their interpretation of the lessons from the Chicago strike, we have to welcome the political turn of the union. The body that best represents the politicisation of the NUT remains the Socialist Teachers Alliance. It has consistently taken up issues of racism, war and immigration at conference and in local associations. As an organised force it has been greatly weakened by uncritically endorsing the national executive strategy. However it still has a real base in East London, Camden and other London associations. Its base has been built through its politics and the consistent work of dedicated left-wing union officers. Many of the main figures in the STA are amongst the best left-wing trade union officials in the country and are important parts of any broad progressive campaign.
STA supporter Kevin Courtney is re-standing for Deputy General Secretary. Kevin has a long history of supporting left-wing campaigns and has maintained a strong links with the organised left. We are encouraging a vote for Kevin and continuing support for the STA’s work in widening the political concerns of the union.