The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is a trade union for school teachers in England and Wales, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, and is the largest teachers’ union in Europe. While the NUT presents itself as an organisation which simply seeks to support and protect teaching staff, in reality it is a hotbed of far-left activism.
In the context of the NUT, its current General Secretary, Christine Blower, appears relatively moderate, and has tried to present herself as a mainstream voice, saying only that ‘I think there’s a lot to be said for socialism’ and blandly acknowledging that ‘I have had, over a period of time, a close association with something called the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union’ (which is actually a far-left group within the NUT).
However, despite her coy approach regarding her political views in recent years, Blower has a history of far-left agitation and in 1999 was accused by the NUT’s then General Secretary, Doug McAvoy, of ‘using the union as a means of pursuing an extreme left-wing agenda’. In the 2000 London Assembly elections, Blower stood as a candidate for the ‘London Socialist Alliance’, a group made up of members of the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the League for a Revolutionary Communist International, and the Socialist Party of England and Wales (formerly Militant Tendency).
Current NUT President Gill Goodswen likewise comes with the endorsement of the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union, and encourages far-leftists to join the Labour Party and ‘reclaim it at the grassroots’. In 2007, while head teacher of a Church of England school, Goodswen renamed the Three Little Pigs story the ‘Three Little Puppies’, because she was worried about ‘offending’ Muslims, despite no complaints having been made. Goodswen stated:
We have to be sensitive if we want to be multi-cultural. It was felt it would be more responsible not to use the three little pigs.
We feared that some Muslim children wouldn’t sing along to the words about pigs.
We didn’t want to take that risk. If changing a few words avoids offence then we will do so.
Goodswen’s predecessor Bill Greenshields (NUT National President 2008-2009) is a Communist Party of Britain activist and editor of Communist Review magazine. During his time as president, Greenshields called for the forced nationalisation of Britain’s private schools, and he continues to agitate within the NUT for the radical leftist agenda.
The NUT’s national executive is likewise infested with far-leftists. In April 2010, Socialist Worker, newspaper of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP), proudly announced ‘Left gains in NUT elections’ and reported:
The left made gains in elections to the national executive committee of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) last week.
New faces include Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) members Anne Lemon from North Somerset and Nick Wigmore from Lancashire. Betty Joseph from Southwark becomes the first person to be elected on behalf of the union’s black members.
Existing STA national executive members re-elected include Nick Grant and Dave Harvey in Outer London, Alex Kenny in Inner London and Roger King in Birmingham.
Nick Grant, co-founder of the Anti Academies Alliance, is a long-standing SWP member and claims in a Socialist Review magazine article that ‘education workers globally and at all levels [are] being proletarianised at a rate of knots’. He considers British and American military action in the War on Terror to be ‘obscene’, which is unsurprising, given he is an organizer for the Stop the War Coalition, a motley band of Communists and Islamists led by Hamas and Hezbollah supporter George Galloway.
Alex Kenny is a far-left activist and leading figure in the Socialist Teachers Alliance who in a recent speech argued that Conservative education policy constitutes a ‘capitalist-led assault on education’. Additionally, in place of simply supporting teaching about abortion, Kenny seeks to use the NUT as a vehicle through which to ‘raise support for Abortion Rights’.
Roger King was amongst the speakers at the 2007 Socialist Teachers Alliance ‘Education for Liberation‘ conference, at which far-left ideologues gathered ‘to discuss what our response should be to the neoliberal assault on education’ and ‘how to raise political issues like climate change in schools, the war on terror and Palestine’. Amongst the items praised by delegates was a report on how one school had abandoned National Curriculum lessons for an entire week and replaced them with ‘a whole school themed timetable around climate change’, during which the school’s head teacher had reportedly ‘practically handed over the school to the teachers’.
That the national executive committee of the NUT should include a considerable number of far-left and Communist activists should be of significant concern, especially when the ideology of the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) is examined.
According to the STA website, the organisation ‘plays a prominent role in current union campaigns’ and its members ‘are active in the majority of local NUT associations and divisions’. The STA tries to encourage the NUT to ‘take up issues of international solidarity’, which includes supporting the Stop the War Coalition (part of the UK’s far-left/Islamist axis), the extremist ‘Palestine Solidarity Campaign’ (which appears to be essentially an Islamist support group and engages in disgusting attacks on Israel that border on outright anti-Semitism), the pro-Communist ‘Cuba Solidarity Campaign’, and the Chavez-supporting ‘Venezuela Solidarity Campaign’.
The extent of the far-left influence on the NUT became especially clear during the union’s 2008 conference, at which anti-military motions were passed by the delegates. According to a Socialist Worker report:
Conference voted overwhelmingly to support a motion opposing military recruitment in schools and to support teachers, students and parents who choose not to take part in events organised by the military.
The motion also called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and for protests if there is any attack on Iran.
The NUT executive moved an amendment, which was passed, strengthening the motion by calling for a convention to be called including teachers, educationalists and Stop the War activists.
The Evening Standard reported that Stefan Simms, of Ealing, West London, told delegates that ‘I would be gutted after years of putting time and professional effort into the students I teach, helping their education and preparing them for adult life, to find out that some have said “I decided to join the Army”‘. The Times reported that Paul McGarr, a delegate from East London, claimed that the only military recruitment material he would want in schools would say ‘Join the Army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people’s countries’.
A fringe meeting held at the conference went further still, attacking the idea of pride in Britain and giving a platform to former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg, a man who has praised the Taliban regime and supports jihadist attacks on Coalition troops in Afghanistan. At the meeting, former NUT President Baljeet Ghale mocked the idea of a national day celebrating Britishness by asking if this would include ‘the appropriation of the wealth of other countries as a British tradition to uphold’. Begg similarly questioned the notion of celebrating Britain and ‘paid tribute to the anti-war movement’.
The 2009 NUT conference continued to further the same agenda. An SWP formulated motion entitled ‘Stop the Spread of War’ was overwhelmingly passed, and the document is well worth reading in full. The motion included the following statements:
Conference endorses the view of Education International that the targeting of educational infrastructure, whether in Gaza or elsewhere can never be acceptable. Conference asserts that schools and colleges should be safe havens for civilians and in particular for children during military conflict.
Conference is also concerned at the wholly unjustifiable continuation of an economic blockade against Cuba, and the vilification and economic destabilization of other Central and South American states where the people have elected governments that are challenging neo-liberalism.
Conference condemns the Israeli attacks on the people of Gaza in January 2009, which killed over one thousand people, including three hundred children.
Conference therefore instructs the Executive to:
Work closely with partners such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Stop the War Coalition on questions of educational materials, military recruitment, peace protests and campaigns aimed at getting UK troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and ending the Israeli denial of Palestinian rights.
Call on the British Government to end the arms trade between Britain and Israel and to call for an end to the EU-Israel Agreement until the occupation is ended.
Take every opportunity to oppose the UK Government’s involvement in invasions like Iraq and Afghanistan and within the TUC to promote the Union’s opposition to invasions, wars and military conflict to promote imperialist self-interests and the need for UK foreign policy to break with that of Washington.
Essentially, then, this motion amounts to little more than an all-out assault on Israel and the West, and a ringing endorsement of repressive far-left regimes.
Operation Cast Lead is condemned in a completely decontextualised manner. No mention is made of the terrorist actions of Hamas which led to the operation in the first place, and no condemnation of Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians is given.
The motion condemns the ‘targeting of educational infrastructure’, yet fails to note that in 2007 Hamas was condemned by the UN for using a school as base from which to launch rocket attacks, and that the much publicised Israeli shelling near to a school in Jebaliya was in direct response to the use of the area to launch Hamas rockets, confirmed in an Associated Press report: ‘Residents confirmed the account, saying militants were seen staging attacks from the area’.
While the loss of civilian life at Jebaliya was unquestionably tragic, Hamas terror operatives and a mortar battery cell were found amongst the dead, and Hamas had clearly been – once again – attempting to use non-combatants as human shields in order to launch attacks, something the motion neglects to mention or condemn.
Likewise, there was no mention or condemnation of the way Hamas has treated teachers and educational establishments. In August 2008, the Associated Press reported:
The ruling Hamas movement has replaced hundreds of striking teachers with its own supporters, purging Gaza’s education system of its political rivals and deepening its control of the coastal territory.
The labour strife has disrupted the public school system at the start of the academic year and added to the misery in Gaza, which has suffered from international isolation and Israeli economic sanctions since Hamas violently seized power last year.
During the takeover, Hamas routed forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement. The local teachers’ union, one of the last remaining Fatah strongholds in Gaza, called its strike this week to protest the transfers of dozens of educators to new schools. It said Hamas forced the transfers to give its supporters key posts in the education system.
Hamas denied this, but then installed hundreds of new teachers almost immediately after the strike began.
“Anybody who left their job will not be allowed to return,” said the Hamas education minister, Mohammed Askoul.
“They have become irrelevant and cannot be trusted anymore as educators.” He estimated 2,000 teachers have been replaced. About 9,000 teachers work in Gaza’s public schools.
The move ensures Gaza’s education system will now be stacked with Hamas loyalists. While the group has said it would not impose its strict Islamic views on society, its control of the classrooms is likely to change the tone of instruction and create more sympathy for the group’s ideology among the territory’s 250,000 public school students.
Hamas is an organisation, then, that has no respect for teaching unions. It is also an organization that attempts to brainwash Palestinian children with Islamic supremacist ideology, teaches toddlers to become jihadists, and condemns teaching about the Holocaust, which it describes as ‘a lie invented by the Zionists’.
On all of this, NUT delegates remain silent, preferring instead to instruct the Executive to ‘[w]ork closely with partners such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Stop the War Coalition’ – in other words, instructing Britain’s largest teaching union to spread far-left anti-Western propaganda.
According to Socialist Resistance, ‘[t]he Palestine Solidarity Campaign has seen a major leap in membership, with groups being established around the country’ and ‘the NUT, both nationally and at association level, has played a significant role in this’. It comes as little surprise, therefore, to find that a PSC meeting at the 2010 NUT conference drew support from NUT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney, NUT Senior Vice President Nina Franklin, and Executive Committee Member Pete Bevis. According to the PSC, East London teacher Kiri Tunks ‘spoke about the Educational [sic] material for teachers on Palestine she has produced’. Given the NUT’s record on dealing with such issues, it is disturbing to think of the kind of anti-Israel propaganda they may be attempting to disseminate in British schools.
Focusing on issues closer to home, the NUT have recently mobilised to bully head teachers sympathetic to Michael Gove’s plans for education reform in the UK, in what Fraser Nelson and Ed Howker of The Spectatordescribe as ‘a secret war which will decide the future of English education’. The truth is, of course, that there is nothing new about this war, which has been underway for decades, and is in reality one component of the wider ‘culture wars’. Until relatively recently, it looked as though the far-left had won the battle over the direction of Britain’s State education system, so it is no surprise to see them mobilising for aggressive action in the face of Gove’s plans for radical reform.
It is clear that the NUT is much more than simply an organisation dedicated to protecting the rights of teaching staff, and is in fact seen by many in its leadership as a potential cadre to be used to force far-left ideology into the mainstream. This must be resisted, and resisted firmly.
Edmund Standing is a writer based in the UK and is the author of two reports on neo-Nazism for the London-based think-tank The Centre for Social Cohesion. He holds a BA in Theology & Religious Studies and an MA in Critical & Cultural Theory. He has his own blog here.
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