The week

22nd April 2011 at 01:00

How are you planning to spend the Easter bank holiday? Relaxing in the sun with the kids? Popping to the coast to dip your toes in the sea? Maybe a balmy afternoon in a beer garden, supping away on a cold fizzy one ... Or, perhaps you want to spend it in a conference centre, basking in artificial light while debating the motion on the under-payment of Bangladeshi weavers?

If you fall in to the latter category then there's every chance you'll find yourself among nearly 1,000 delegates gathering in Harrogate or Glasgow for the NUT and NASUWT conferences this weekend. Not for them fun in the sun, oh no. Let's get on with strike threats, exam boycotts and left-wing solidarity. There's every chance that Mssrs Chavez and Castro will make their usual appearance from the floor - as will a nice bit of inter-union fraternity. Last year a highlight was PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka's barnstorming keynote speech at the NUT, which got the crowd chanting in the aisles. Christines Blower and Keates have a long way to go if they're going to match that.

Not that they lack material to get the delegates going. The only story in town this weekend is whether the major unions can do anything to stop the Coalition emasculating public sector pensions. Certainly the members are angry, the delegates are fuming and the leadership are dusting down their manuals on national strikes. The only question is whether ministers will listen. And the answer to that is almost certainly a firm: "Sorry did you say something? I wasn't really listening."

The union in the vanguard of this march towards industrial action is, perhaps surprisingly, the ATL. Normally the more restrained of the big three, the ATL's conference gathered in Liverpool at the beginning of the week and promptly worked itself into a frenzy about pensions, behaviour, and playground games - conkers and British bulldog to be precise. These are dying out, according to a union-survey and the headlines that followed. A couple of observations: first, only a small minority of poll respondents reported that the games were on the wane. Second, this story is older than time itself and neither has actually vanished. Best stick to pensions, eh?

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