NUT18: Impressions of Conference by a first time delegate
How appropriate that the last ever NUT Conference should take place in Brighton, both of them being diverse, colourful and proudly awkward.
The tone of the whole Conference was set from the very first session on Good Friday afternoon when guests of the union were invited to speak. Among others, the General Secretary of the Kenyan NUT and two young Rohingya men gave especially powerful speeches which both received thunderous applause from the delegates. The former updated us on the Kenyan union's battle against the multinational companies who are trying to foist profit driven schools on the country and the union's success in turning the tide. In an eloquent and angry speech he compared these companies to a virus and how, if they are not eradicated in Kenya and other African countries, it will be sure to spread to us. If our Kenyan comrades' example inspired admiration and the desire to emulate, the speech of the Rohinga refugees elicited our sympathy but also pleasure in the lives they have rebuilt thanks to receiving a decent education. As Wilson, our Kenyan comrade, put it
our fight is your fight. To finish the session we were delighted to welcome a staunch friend and campaigner on our behalf, the writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen.
This fighting mood that
enough is enough permeated the rest of Conference. It might have been understandable if regrettable had the mood dissipated under the procedural weight of composite motions, amendments and the like but it didn't. Speakers didn't lose sight of principles when it came to the nitty gritty business of passing motions. A few highlights were Latifa's heartfelt contribution to the debate on uniform rules and the hijab, Natara's impassioned demand to end the exploitation of supply teachers by the agencies or Gary's barnstorming assault on the greed of MAT CEOs. The conference finished with a raft of motions passed on vital issues such as workload, testing and pay to take forward into the new union.
Then, of course, there were all those
incidental pleasures of a conference, not essential to the passing of motions but the things that bring it to life. Here are just some of those moments.
The evening meals with delegation colleagues, the chance to relax and share
war stories of battles won and lost over the years.
Conversations with people from across the country; a delegate from Sussex sharing his enthusiasm for the writings of Tom Paine.
The recognition of all that unpaid hard work on behalf of others; Kate Taylor from Birmingham being awarded Representative of the Year with her principle that
Every child deserves the support I give my son.
Last and not least we were reminded of why we were there by the many children at Conference. There were the happy sounds of play coming from the crèche and the lunch time concerts put on by Music For Youth, a group partly sponsored by the union. After having mislaid my glasses and failing to find them I was especially grateful for the musical balm provided by a string quartet despite my not being able to see them very clearly.
So, although this is the last NUT Conference, I'm confident from what I saw that its campaigning spirit will be there when the NEU meet next year in Liverpool.