Conference 2018: International Solidarity
Once again the NUT section of the NEU demonstrated its commitment to International issues, with 11 overseas guests including Wilson Sossion from the Kenya NUT. He spoke of the activities of the private company, Bridge International Academies, which is backed by Pearson and operates in several African countries delivering substandard education at a price. Its activities are being questioned and restricted by several governments and Wilson drew a standing ovation supporting the slogan 'Students not profits' (see picture opposite).
The opening session of Conference was also addressed by two Rohingya refugees now living in the UK, who spoke of the history of the Rohingya and their current plight. Although the talk was harrowing it was also heartening to learn that the younger man is now a successful A level student in a Bradford school, aiming to read Law at university and qualify as a Human Rights lawyer. He paid tribute to one of his teachers who was a Bradford delegate to Conference.
Several of us attended the International Fringe meeting on the progress (or slow progress) being made to achieve the Global Goals for Education. The meeting was addressed by Angelo Gavrielatos, who quit his role as President of the Australian Education Union to take up the global fight against the privatisation and commercialisation of public education as Project Director of Education International. Angelo reiterated Wilson Sossion's criticism of Bridge International Academies and how profit making companies are holding back the achievement of the Global Goals for Education.
Ann Beatty, CEO of the Steve Sinnott Foundation which was set up following Steve's death 10 years ago, spoke of the continuing work of the Foundation to work towards achieving the Global Goals.
Chris Smith from Norfolk NEU-NUT section, spoke of his work as International Solidarity Officer, including joining a recent delegation to Palestine. The union recently sent a delegation to Mexico, which has seen a massive rise in killings and disappearances, and there is still no word on the Ayotzinapa 43 missing student teachers. A further delegation will be going to Mexico to help supervise the forthcoming elections in June/July. Delegations to 'Remembering Srebrenica' continue.
The guest speaker at the Cuba Solidarity meeting was Ana Gloria Calderón from the Cuban teachers' union, SNTCED, who spoke on the Cuba's educational achievements in Cuba itself and overseas. Five of the NEU-NUT section participants in last October's delegation to Cuba spoke about the experience with a special focus on the importance of music in Cuba. The meeting was also used to launch 'Play for Cuba', a joint project between CSC and the NEU-NUT section to collect musical instruments to send to Cuba. The plan to establish regional collection hubs to coordinate local collections and the final collection and container will be waved off from next year's NEU conference in Liverpool.
The Cuba meeting clashed with several other fringe meetings including a meeting on the current situation in Turkey. There is a less serious side to Conference and some of the Leicester delegation were able to make the Cuban Salsa night with music by Omar Puente and his band.
The Palestine Solidarity meeting took place in the wake of the massacre of unarmed protesters in Gaza three days earlier, which left 18 dead and 1400 wounded. The imprisonment of Palestinian children is still happening and the fringe meeting heard the case of 17-year-old Ahed Tamini serving an 8 month prison sentence for confronting a heavily armed Israeli soldier. Participants in recent union delegations to Palestine spoke of their visit with accompanying slides. Julia Simpkins, International Solidarity Officer for Bolton Association, is arranging for twelve Palestinian children to visit Bolton and fundraising to finance the visit. On the last day of Conference Julia was presented with the Steve Sinnott Award for International Solidarity work.
Conference also expressed support for protests by USA teachers and students against the power of the gun lobby and also the strike by teachers in Oklahoma who earn the lowest pay in the USA.
In the International Section of Conference the motion against USA intervention in Latin America was passed with a large majority in favour and the second motion supporting girls' education was moved and seconded but ran out of time for debate.
Kevin Courtney paid a moving tribute to former NUT president, Mary Compton, who campaigned tirelessly on international issues and against global privatisation and neoliberalism. Mary had been planning to join the recent delegation to Mexico but her illness prevented her - she sadly died on 28th January 2018 at the age of only 67.