NUT members stand firm

DURING the past week members of the NUT have been voting on what many expect to be the most important ballot since the salaries campaign of the mid-80s. As they began their Christmas holidays, they were horrified to discover that they were to be asked to end their successful boycott of standard assessment tests (Sats).

Just before the end of last term the NUT leadership met Gillian Shephard to discuss the boycott. Although she offered no concessions, they used her vague comments as an excuse to ditch the boycott. They hoped ending this would put them more in tune with Labour Party thinking. At the moment there is little to choose between Blunkett and Shephard.

Even beforehand the leadership’s intentions were made clear when the union’s leftwing vice-president, Carol Regan, was excluded from the meeting with Shephard. Later at an emergency executive meeting the motion to end the boycott was only agreed to by a narrow majority. In an attempt to get a ‘Yes’ vote and deny the left any opportunity to organise against it, the leadership has gone to amazing lengths.

During the holiday ballot papers were printed and distributed. Many members received them at their home address even before schools had re-opened. Since the start of term schools have been flooded with pro-’Yes’ propaganda from the leadership. NUT leaders hope that by going for a quick ballot (closing date January 19) with little discussion they will get a majority.

Yet the leadership has not found it easy going. Teachers have not forgotten that the union’s policy is to boycott the Sats tests until they are abandoned. Classroom teachers realise that the tests are fundamental to the Tories’ ideological attack on education.

A meeting last Saturday of left activists heard reports of schools voting ‘No’ en masse with critical motions passed against the leadership.

If the NUT leaders do win the ballot and the boycott is not sustained by other forms of action, it will be a serious defeat for all educational workers. When teachers were defeated in the salaries campaign of the 80s, they paid a heavy price: massive cuts, national curriculum, formal contracts, loss of negotiating rights, etc.

Already it has been announced that over 10,000 teachers will lose their jobs next year. The surrender on Sats will witness the Tories seeking vengeance on a bigger scale than they did in the late 80s.

Tony Coughlin