Rightwing thrown on defensive in Harrogate

The annual conference of the National Union of Teachers took place in Harrogate over the Easter weekend. Generally, the conference was a good one for leftwing forces in the union, although the left failed to make the union take an unequivocal anti-war stand. On a whole range of issues, the moderate majority on the National Executive Committee found themselves on the defensive. On the issue of classroom assistants the left was able to inflict an important defeat on the executive. A motion was passed calling for industrial action in the event that assistants, rather than qualified teachers, take lessons. The mood of delegates was such that even the leadership, which normally does its utmost to avoid leading any meaningful industrial action, was forced to back a boycott of SAT tests for 7, 11 and 14 year olds. It remains to be seen, however, whether the executive's decision was simply a way of pacifying conference or whether they really mean to take action. Previously conference resolutions have been subsequently ignored by the leadership. In the debate on Iraq and Palestine, many delegates expressed contempt for the way the executive has continually refused to take a clear anti-war stand and back the Stop The War Coalition. However, due to tactical errors on the part of the left, no unambiguous anti-war motion was voted on, so the NUT remains 'neutral' on the war. A disgraceful position to hold. Nevertheless, up to 200 people attended a Stop the War Coalition rally on Easter Sunday. Among the speakers were Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and the SWP's Lindsey German. Whilst the anti-imperialist rhetoric was on full display, it was disappointing that none of the platform speakers raised the question of the Kurds or which forces in Iraq the left needs to support. When questioned about the danger of islamic fundamentalism, comrade German claimed she did not really understand what was meant by such a term. Clearly if the left denies this political category, the anti-war movement will find it difficult to distance itself from such reactionary forces. About 35 people attended a fringe meeting of the Socialist Alliance, a much smaller turnout than at the previous two conferences. No doubt this reflects the fact that the SA has rather disappeared from view since the start of the war crisis. Criticisms of the SA's failings were made from the floor, and contrasted with the fortunes of the Scottish Socialist Party. Even the members of the Socialist Workers Party, by far and away the majority present, recognised that the SA has problems at the moment. Unfortunately, they had no answers to overcoming its failures and were reduced to attacking the anti-war work of the SSP, which they characterised as sectarian. Cameron Richards