The Left won the vote for a strike ballot over pay reforms but it is likely to prove an empty victory. Nicolas Barnard and Julie Henry report from Harrogate
THE NUMBERS added up for the Left, but the victory was for the moderates. The message from general secretary Doug McAvoy was that a one-day summer strike over performance pay would almost certainly never be implemented.
And it was clear that he regarded the crucial vote to have been not Tuesday's but last year's when he trounced Christine Blower to win his third five-yearterm as general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.
It was a fitting finale to a debate that had stretched over four days of the union's annual conference in Harrogate. Both left and right admit that they are in for a long, hard fight with the Government.
"We are fighting not a short, sharp campaign, but a long-term struggle," Mr McAvoy told delegates in his closing speech. "It may take the terms of office of more than one government."
The union's leadership believes performance pay is so flawed it will prove unworkable and that sustained campaigning by the NUT will see it either abolished or modified to such an extent that delegates will within a decade be voting to strike to keep it.
Delegates voted by 105,208 to 82,114 for a strike ballot - instructing Mr McAvoy and the executive to campaign for a "yes" vote, followed by an autumn conference to plan further industrial action. They were also united on an indefinite work-to-rule, boycotting activities outside their contracts, and a national demonstration.
But Mr McAvoy told delegates before the result was announced: "You seek to instruct me to be dishonest. I have no intention of following such an instruction."
He later explained he would not campaign for a strike simply to let members let off steam. It would alienate parents because teachers knew it would not deflect the Government.
Education Secretary David Blunkett said: "This must be the first time in history a trade union conference has called for a strike against its members being offered promotion and extra pay simply for doing their jb well."
The leadership started the conference with good news, by increasing its majority on the executive over the alliance of hard left groups by four seats.
Results of a members' survey showed a massive 97 per cent opposed to a link between pay and results, on a 28 per cent return. More than 85 per cent supported a work to rule, and 60 per cent backed a one-day strike - not enough, Mr McAvoy explained.
Debate on a strike began on Sunday. But left-wing objections to an anodyne amendment saw it adjourned almost immediately for a card vote.
Farcically, the most important motion of the conference was then debated in snatched moments over the rest of the conference.
Many on the Left were furious a unanimous strike vote at last year's conference was never carried through. And they argued the mood in schools was so strong over performance pay that a ballot would succeed.
John Lockwood, of mid-Warwickshire, said: "Our leaders are mesmerised by this Labour government. They believe it is invincible. But it's not. It is coming apart at the seams. In 10 days it will lose the capital city - - let's get off our knees."
Bob Sulatycki of Kensington and Chelsea, who proposed the strike ballot, said the truly divisive policy would be the work-to-rule. It would stop them doing the very activities that would show their contribution to school ethos.
But others said the call for a special conference - one held in autumn 1998 has left bitter memories on both sides - was an admission the strike would not work. "This is political suicide against a strong and determined government," Simon Horne of Barnet said.
Afterwards, Mr Sulatycki said he was pleased with the result but disappointed by Mr McAvoy's response. Members on the Left feel the response to last month's survey would have been even greater had he come out firmly for a strike. The general secretary seemed to be suggesting conference was a waste of time, he said.
Pressed on the same point by journalists, Mr McAvoy's reply was a succinct quote from the NUT rule book: "Conference is the supreme body of the NUT," he smiled.