Union returns to the TUC fold

17th September 2004 at 01:00
William Stewart reports from the Trades Union Congress on the rehabilitation of the National Union of Teachers'

What a difference a year - and a change of general secretary - makes. In 2003 delegates from other teaching unions attending the Trades Union Congress annual conference could hardly bear to be in the same room as Doug McAvoy, the then general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, because of the rift over workforce remodelling.

Although the TUC had endorsed the deal, the dissenting NUT published a full-page newspaper advert warning that it would allow "anyone" to teach - and then further antagonised fellow unionists by leafleting them.

Twelve months on in Brighton and Steve Sinnott, the new NUT general secretary, was seen back-slapping and chatting with comrades from the other unions.

Officially positions have not changed, but differences over the agreement were kept firmly in the background this year.

Mr Sinnott, making his first speech to the TUC, called for a group to be set up to assess the impact of workforce reform on public services. But it was couched in careful terms, stressing that the reform had strengths and weaknesses. His speech did not encounter opposition.

There was similar agreement on a motion proposed by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers which called for future Government policy to build on the social partnership with unions developed through the workforce deal.

There was also a public, if slightly tongue-in-cheek, hint that NUT relations with the Government could be on the mend.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, congratulated Mr Sinnott on his election in front of congress and said: "As always I look forward to a successful and constructive relationship."

However, it was not all plain sailing. The Government's five-year education plan came in for criticism from trade unionists.

Delegates overwhelmingly backed motions condemning the proposed expansion of academies, a reduction in the role of local authorities and planned civil service job cuts.

And the Government faces the prospect of industrial action from the public-sector union Unison over workforce reforms (see above).

A motion was also passed on childhood obesity, calling for the return of cookery to the curriculum and enough funding to allow schools to get rid of vending machines.

John Puckrin, from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that schools made enough income from such machines to pay for at least one new member of staff.

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