The National Union of Teachers voted to take industrial action if necessary to prevent job losses and to defend teachers "victimised" by inspectors, at its Cardiff annual conference .
It has also agreed to support teachers who walk out of schools because they are concerned they are unsafe. An emergency motion by the executive said: "Conference asserts the right of children, teachers and support staff to study and work in properly maintained premises of appropriate standards and demands the Government institute and fund an urgent programme of repairs and maintenance to schools."
The union says it is increasingly acting for teachers who have been injured at school as a direct result of deteriorating buildings and poor maintenance.
The leadership of the union was criticised by delegates for not doing enough to prevent job losses or the rise in class sizes. And a motion calling for a nationally co-ordinated campaign of strike action, which was opposed by the executive, was passed. It seems unlikely, however, that the leadership will initiate such a campaign.
Kevin Courtney, from Camden, north London, said the NUT had failed its members year after year over pay. He criticised the leadership for not holding a special salaries conference which had been agreed by last year's conference.
A motion proposed by Mr Courtney which argued for a pay claim of an 8 per cent rise plus Pounds 1,500 for every teacher was overturned. Tony Brockman, speaking for the executive, argued it was better for unions to be united and present a joint submission.
Conference also voted for the union to give full support to gay and lesbian teachers who decide to "come out" and to support any member who has suffered from discrimination or harassment. It said: "Conference believes the presence of openly lesbian and gay teachers has a positive impact on schools."
The motion also called for the NUT to campaign to end the right of parents to withdraw their children from lessons about AIDS, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Geof Ellingham, of the gay pressure group School's Out and a primary school teacher in Haringey, north London, said: "I am delighted with the vote. Without the explicit support of a union it can be very difficult for teachers to be open about their sexuality. While it is becoming easier for secondary teachers in cities to come out it is still very difficult for primary teachers. "
A motion which would encourage schools and local authorities to refuse to comply with immigration authorities by supplying information on pupils students or their families was also carried. Nick Tate, chief executive of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority was attacked for producing a narrow, Eurocentric curriculum.
The NUT is now committed to ballot all members on professional unity. The union must also produce an action plan to show how professional unity can be achieved by the year 2000. In his speech to delegates Mr McAvoy, general secretary, said mergers with other unions could only take place if the union was prepared to make concessions and show restraint.