Responding to a piece on TES Connect yesterday by the founder of Labour Teachers, John Blake, Martin Powell-Davies (pictured), a candidate for general secretary of the NUT and a classroom teacher, writes:
Anyone who watched John on Newsnight will have realised how out of touch he is with classroom teachers when he poured scorn on the idea that the NUT is taking action over workload. Of all teachers’ many grievances, the unsustainable length of our working week is perhaps the most keenly felt.
But John goes further. On his blog, he not only argues in favour of free schools, but even calls for a future Labour government to start trialling for-profit provision of schooling.
You don’t have to be ‘Far Left’ to be opposed to such educationally damaging free-market policies. Opinion polls show that John is in a minority amongst the public as a whole. He would certainly not find many who agreed with him in the NUT nor, I suspect, among most teaching members of the Labour Party.
When John came to the NUT conference in recent years to argue his case, and to oppose the union taking action to oppose government policy, he was left in a minority of almost one. Now he prefers making his points through his blog without the "dreary days of meetings" and "elections" – in other words, without the hindrance of democracy.
In contrast, the NUT is a democratic union where we’re not afraid to discuss and debate. Conference delegates do think it worth making time over Easter to discuss how best to stop the ongoing privatisation of schooling, to protect children’s education, to defend teachers pay and conditions before even more colleagues are forced out of the profession.
John may think that the NUT needs to “engage with government policy to deliver necessary reform”. NUT delegates, from right across the Union, were united in agreeing that we cannot allow these damaging policies to wreck children’s education, nor wreck teachers’ lives, any longer. Has politics shifted so far to the right amongst mainstream politicians in Britain that this makes us all ‘Far Left’?
Some delegates, like me, believe that we need a more decisive action strategy to defeat these attacks. We argued that the NUT should announce an ongoing calendar of strike action rather than just a further one-day strike. We also called for clearer campaign objectives such as an end to performance-related pay and a significant reduction in teachers’ overall working hours.
A majority of conference delegates voted against my proposal. However, in the election contests that did take place for the NUT National Executive last month, candidates who argued for escalating action, including myself, were successfully elected. Far from being out of touch, those election results show that many teachers have also concluded that bolder action will be required.
That debate on strategy and demands will continue in the election for NUT general secretary that I am contesting in June. Yes, I will be standing as a classroom teacher who is also unashamedly a socialist (as Newsnight has been so keen to point out), but my election platform will be about what I believe is the best way to defend teachers and education, not party politics.
If elected, I won’t need John Blake to tell me that I will be leading 300,000 teachers with a range of political views, and to act accordingly. However, I will certainly be prepared to lead that whole union into action to defend education, and to call on parents to support us. Regrettably, it seems that such a campaign may be necessary whichever of the main parties form the next government.
John Blake and Newsnight can label that ‘Far Left’ if they like. I believe it is simply carrying out the responsibility of a teacher trade union leader to seek to protect education.