The creation of the National education Union which took place yesterday is undoubtedly a significant event for the trade union movement.
The coming together of ATL and NUT to form a union half a million strong, which will be the fourth-biggest affiliate to the TUC, will certainly change the landscape in education and, to an extent, in the wider trade union movement.
Over the past 30 years, we have seen a complete restructuring of education along neoliberal lines, as we have in many sectors of the economy.
This process has been more virulent since the launch of the ruling-class offensive following the 2008 economic crisis and the election of the Tory-led coalition in 2010.
however, deregulation and marketisation of education was clearly part of the New Labour agenda as well, of course, as that of its Thatcherite predecessors.
This agenda has seen local authorities undermined and underfunded, school support services cut and community schools replaced by unaccountable academies and free schools.
It has seen prescription and narrowing of the curriculum, the domination of testing and an obsession with data, brought about by hyper-accountability.
The same agenda has attacked national pay agreements, slashed public-sector pensions and introduced payment by results.
Today it is exacerbated by the biggest cut to school funding in a generation.
It is clear that education workers need innovative, effective, powerful unions more than they ever have before, as do the students those education workers serve.
The National education Union is ATL and NUT’s response to this challenge, and it certainly provides an opportunity for an organised fightback against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.
But greater unity, while necessary in these challenging times, is not, in itself, enough.
With the challenges posed by Britain’s restrictive anti-union laws (including the Trade Union Act which has now come into force), unions need not only strength, unity and workplace density.
They also need a crucial combination of militancy and tactical flexibility.
They need to be able to focus on the immediate demands of workplace struggle, while linking these to wider community struggles against the impacts of neoliberalism and austerity.
It remains to be seen whether the new National education Union can provide this crucial mixture so vital to protecting not just its members’ rights but our children’s education system.
however, the signs are certainly positive. Both the ATL and NUT have sought to engage their members, and the wider community, in innovative initiatives like the NUT’s Stand Up for education campaign and the joint School Cuts campaign in the run-up to June’s general election.
Variously described as “social movement unionism,” “union renewal” and a return to union organising traditions, this is a question not just for education unions but for the wider trade union movement too.
It is not enough to be angry with the co-ordinated assault on our society, mounted by Tory politicians at the behest of their wealthy paymasters.
We need to understand how to re-engage and mobilise the working class, not just those already in unions, to fight it.
This means strengthening our organisations and, in many cases, changing the way they operate in order to reach out to working-class communities.
This will no doubt be a key discussion at this year’s TUC, where the “workers’ parliament” has a number of motions to discuss on trade union organisation and a new model of trade unionism.
Ultimately, it is not a question which can wait any longer. We need to share the best experience, from all sectors of the economy, and prepare ourselves to fight the class struggle.