Saturday, May 24, 2008

Linda Taaffe speaks out

Linda Taaffe writes in classroom teacher Linda was on the National Executive for years but the tired old left thought she was a bit too outspoken. To use a suspect sexist term, she had more balls than the lot of them put together!

In Central Hall Westminster at the April 24th strike rally in front of two thousand teachers, with many more thousands locked outside, wild cheering and applause greeted any platform speaker even hinting at further joint action.

It seemed that the NUT was on a roll. After years of trying, the Left on the NUT National Executive apparently had won a small majority in the elections. Also by a quirk of fate a left general secretary took the helm, joining an already established left treasurer. We then got the news that UNISON were going to ballot, and others were lining up to join those that had already shown willing.

At the same time discontent is being fuelled by more rising prices. Our case is strengthened daily. And to cap it all the government has come under real pressure. With the massacre in the local elections, now Nantwich & Crewe, and Gordon Brown's poll ratings at absolute rock bottom what a chance to extract another u-turn on public sector pay to add to the 10p tax fiasco.

Trade unions rarely get a favourable combination of circumstances to pursue a strike. It is never the right moment. But given some other situations this was a golden opportunity. Incredibly some, or rather quite a few, including those calling themselves Left, have voted against calling action now. They have let teachers down. They have let the government off the hook. They have quite possibly caused a negative impact on the rank and file of other unions.

We recognise that there might be complicating factors, but the overriding factor here was a chance for the coordinated action that the whole of the trade union movement has been campaigning on for such a long time. Shame on those who have shown such a lack of judgment that they voted against a strike in July.

Leadership is all about judgment. Of course we all want the same thing in the end, but timing is everything in politics. Now it seems we have a situation where some 'on the left' have joined with others on the right with similar 'honestly held views' to effectively kick our pay battle into the long grass for now.

Experience in the Left Caucus on the National Executive has shown me that there are some whose views are barely 'Left' at all. There are others on the Left like myself, Martin Powell Davies and others especially in the Socialist Party, who faced a somewhat different, quite unsympathetic reaction to our 'honestly held views'. Martin stood for General Secretary because we reckoned that the views of the candidate backed by others on the Left would fall short. Were we right? As an Executive member I spoke out against some of the methods of many in the Left Caucus who believed that those in the then majority of the Executive really wanted the same thing as us and would see the error of their lackadaisical ways and be won over by our more energetic campaigning.

Unfortunately, the result of this vote could demobilise teachers. It certainly gives the government time to re-group. It may well be that the relentless pressure of events can bring action to the fore again. I certainly hope so. The Div. Secs on June 17th might have much to say. Hopefully Divisonal Secretaries who wanted to see united action in July will not go shy in taking up the arguments of those on the left as well as those on the right.

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