Teachers leaders prepare further strikes after #M28

With extension of the retirement age emerging as a 'line in the sand' for teaching unions and others, senior figures across several unions indicate further coordinated strikes remain likely.
by - 30th March 2012, 7.00 BST

Teaching unions will be building on the ‘extremely positive response’ from members during the M28 strike in London (pictured), to unite a ‘coalition of the willing’ among unions committed to carrying on the industrial battle against Coalition pension cuts, according to UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.

“I was really proud to be marching on the day,” she told UnionNews, “but it is also really important that we start on a programme of action to resist the government’s plans.”

Reflecting on Wednesday’s action – which brought thousands of UCU members out on strike across the capital – she said: “A range of unions now have very clear policies of rejection.

“What we will do is work with the willing, because we can see from the numbers who took part in the strike that we have very clear endorsement that our members feel we were right to call the strike.”

Both of the teaching unions involved in Wednesday’s strike admit further sustained, long-term action will almost certainly be required to persuade the government to make any concessions on its current demands to cut pension benefits for teachers, with the UCU and NUT accusing government ministers of not negotiating in good faith.

Kevin Courtney, NUT’s deputy general secretary, told UnionNews: “Six to eight thousand people showed a real, continuing engagement with the campaign.

“The government still hasn’t carried out the evaluation of the teachers’ pension scheme and there’s no financial need for these changes.”

According to Sally Hunt, the unions ‘absolutely have to deal with’ the issue of the proposed extension to teachers and lecturers retirement ages.

“Our members have to know when they will be able to retire,” she said.

“Until we have some certainty on this, we won’t have anything near an acceptable offer.”

“It’s not even a definite retirement age,” said Kevin Courtney. “It’s a variable.”

Teachers have been doing their own calculations following George Osborne’s budget announcement that he intends to link longevity and the state pension age.

As one teacher put it on a London picket line: “It’s not impossible that we could end up teaching the grandchildren of our current grade sevens under this plan.”

“It’s completely unacceptable,” replied her colleagues.

The UCU leader is also concerned about the impact of the current proposals on part-time and lower paid members of the union – who also happen to be mostly female university staff.

Sally Hunt said: “I am not willing to say any of this is acceptable as the plans stand at the moment and those plans are still on the table.

“It is possible the equality discussions which the government is undertaking may deal with some of those issues, but I expect it will still not be satisfactory.”

The coming weeks will be a critical time if unions want to reinforce what some see as a ‘bridgehead’ they established with Wednesday’s strike.

NASUWT and PCS are both pledged to consider further coordinated strike action at their national conferences next month

There have been hints that the GMB may recommend rejection of the scheme to its NHS members in a forthcoming ballot, also expected next month.

Senior sources among the teaching unions are concerned that a day in April is being touted as the date for the next coordinated strike.  They say school holidays and their own conferences make that too soon for them to organise action in schools across the UK, but they say they remain committed to further action soon.

Said Sally Hunt: “What we do know is that a union leadership can only ever go as far as our members will allow us. The strike showed that they want us to do this.”

You can hear Kevin Courtney’s interview in full in this week’s podcast, online from Sunday.