Anger dividend may benefit Left;Easter Conferences

9th April 1999 at 01:00
LEFT-WING groups within the NUT hope that anger at the Government will boost the campaign of leadership challenger Christine Blower.

Ms Blower, a former president of the union and special needs teacher from Hammersmith and Fulham in West London, launched her challenge to replace Doug McAvoy as general secretary at the conference, saying the union was "confronted with a New Labour Government that is extremely hostile to teachers".

The Left believes it has a chance. The last election, five years ago, was closer than many had predicted, and Ms Blower has a higher profile than the previous challenger from the Left, Mary Hufford. Yellow campaign badges were much in evidence at conference and Ms Blower claims almost 60 nominations, with a month still to go before the nominations close.

Although from the Left - she made sarcastic references to media descriptions of her as Hard Left but she is supported by the Socialist Teachers' Alliance and the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union - she is staking her claim on the issue of union democracy.

Mr McAvoy has attracted criticism from some members on the Left who feel he is creating policy without authority. His negotiations with Oxfordshire County Council for the NUT to partner it in an education action zone attracted particular controversy. The executive and most Oxfordshire members were unaware of the talks when Mr McAvoy announced them at a conference.

"It's not the role of the general secretary to decide what policies should and shouldn't be implemented. And most importantly, it's not the role of general secretary to decide things we haven't even discussed and then launch them without any debate," Ms Blower said.

She added: "It's perfectly clear the NUT has an extremely good body of policy. The difference is we don't always implement those policies. That frustrates members and leaves us weakened."

Commentators have suggested that Mr McAvoy's hard line on the Green Paper is not unconnected to the election. Mr McAvoy says he would oppose performance-related pay at any time and argues there is nothing he could do to win over the Left.

He told The TES before the conference: "I have attempted to ensure the union is never marginalised by government or employers. Christine's platform is one where we would stand aside. I would oppose that and I hope members would oppose that."

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