1 Apr '13

News NUT members decry rising influence of 'hard left' within teachers' union

Broadly Speaking group, set up to portray more moderate stance, is unhappy with constant calls for industrial action

You would think teachers were a rowdy, somewhat naive and militant bunch judging by the past few days.

At its annual conference, delegates of one of the biggest classroom unions in the country, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), have chanted "Gove must go", called for a national strike and demanded the resignation of the chief inspector of England's schools.

Such views, however, do not sit easily with a growing number of the union's members who say they do not want to be represented by a "hard-left wing" that they claim has infiltrated the NUT. The hard left is damaging the public's perception of the teaching profession and making it impossible to negotiate with the government, they argue.

"There is growing dissatisfaction with the constant calls for strike action and some extremists using the union for political purposes," said Ian Grayson, who is on the NUT's national executive representing members in Tyne and Wear. "There's a strong mood for change."

Grayson is trying to increase support for Broadly Speaking, a group that hopes to portray a more moderate stance. About 120 people turned up for its meeting on the first day of the NUT's annual conference this year, and 18 of the 44 members of the union's national executive have shown support for the group.

"The vast majority of NUT members are well-educated, reasonable people who just don't feel the same way as the extreme left who take the podium," Grayson said.

But this is no coup. The group say they do not blame the union's leadership, but are alarmed by the increasing influence of the Socialist Workers party, Workers Liberty and the Socialist party factions.

Broadly Speaking said a conference debate on Saturday exemplified the frustration the group feels with the direction in which the NUT is heading.

The union, together with rival teaching union Nasuwt, has stated that it will stage a series of strikes this June over pay, pensions and workload. On Saturday, however, some delegates took it further – too far, according to Broadly Speaking – and called for the union's executive and officers to work with other unions towards a general strike next year.

"Industrial action has a place," said Grayson. "But we oppose calls for perpetual industrial action. We would tend towards a programme of constructive dialogue instead."

The union insists it is a broad church and that its members remain united. Delegates may applaud some speeches, while not necessarily agreeing with them. Jerry Glazier, who is on the NUT's national executive and represents members from Essex, said the hard left have no more of a voice than in the past. "The Socialist Workers party has always been very good at making a lot of noise," he said.

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