Steve was right and our fight will go on

11th April 2008 at 01:00
This week the NUT, teaching profession and world of education in general were dealt a devastating blow with the loss of Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary. Everyone's thoughts are with his wife Mary, son, daughter, grandchildren and parents, who knew better than anyone what a caring and devoted man he was.

The tributes to Steve have poured in as we have tried to make sense of what his death will mean. Throughout it all, I have returned time and again to the fact that all teachers knew too well: that in this dispute, which will see NUT members on April 24 strike over pay for the first time in 21 years, Steve was absolutely right.

Members were convinced by Steve's determination that the union, to which he gave so much, must make a stand against the successive pay cuts that are causing the profession so much harm.

The statistics of the pay ballot are well-known and rehearsed - 75.2 per cent of those who voted did so in favour of the action. That is a significant majority. The separate TES poll supports that finding. Of the 8,000 teachers who took part from all unions, more than 60 per cent indicated that they were supportive of the NUT's decision. More than 70 per cent of those identified as NUT members also agreed, which - when compared with the ballot - demonstrates the accuracy of the poll.

Steve repeatedly urged the other teaching unions to join us in this fight. The TES poll shows that most of those unions' members are in support and would have placed the exact same X in the exact same box as more than three-quarters of voting NUT members.

If you consider the fact that those members of other unions would not have received the same literature as NUT members, outlining and explaining the reasons for the campaign, the overwhelming likelihood is that a concerted campaign by all teaching unions would have resulted in the same majority vote for industrial action that was delivered by the NUT.

In the days since the news of Steve's death came through we have witnessed a steely determination among our colleagues that the fight has to go on.

Teachers and other public sector employees have had enough of this Government's imposition of below-inflation pay rises. Steve recognised this before anyone else. He understood the difficulties facing young teachers today, striving to make ends meet, unable to get on the property ladder and making do just to get by.

I was present on many occasions when Steve spoke eloquently, wisely and passionately about these issues. He frequently used the analogy of when he had been a young teacher in the 1970s with a young family. He explained that it was a time when teachers were underpaid and undervalued. His great fear was that we were slowly but surely seeing a return to those days. He called for an end to what he described as the "boom and bust" policies that had dominated teachers' pay since that time. And he was right. In every possible way, Steve Sinnott was right, and the NUT was right to ballot its members.

April 24 2008 has its own significance as the day of the first teachers' strike over pay for 21 years. In the lead-up to that date, the NUT will continually urge the Government to talks. The fight for fair pay for teachers will continue. The NUT's stand on behalf of all teachers will remain. Steve would not have wanted it any other way.

David Evans is secretary of NUT Cymru.

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