Labour leftwinger promises to champion ‘social justice’ in education

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Merseyside’s Labour leader Peter Harrison

The left-wing new leader of a southern teachers’ union has pledged to make education one of his party’s key election issues.

Peter Harrison, leader of the NUT’s Merseyside branch, has pledged to deliver “social justice” in his campaign to be general secretary.

“People want quality education,” he said. “We should see this as a battle cry.”

New Labour leftwinger Mr Harrison is a child psychologist who has also worked in education.

The first election he has campaigned in was against Merseyside’s moderate Labour group, the GMB, to be chairman of the NUT Merseyside branch in 2017.

Mr Harrison, 42, worked as a union shop steward during the 1990s and says he fought many industrial disputes.

Merseyside teaching unions have traditionally been part of the left wing of the Labour party. However, Mr Harrison says he has always worked with moderate trade unionists.

“I always work with people who disagree with me,” he says. “In many ways, I’m the antithesis of leftwing politics, it’s simple.

“I’ve always been on the side of the worker.”

Diversity

If he wins the general secretary election, the north Liverpool resident has said he wants to “stand up to the bullying bully-boy politics of today”.

“I think the relationship between unions and politicians is one of the most important relationships.

“I think education is what unions should be representing today – that’s why I want to become general secretary of the NUT, and that’s why I want to campaign for the Labour party to campaign for.”

Mr Harrison said his Labour background did not mean that he was necessarily “campaigning for lots of money for teachers’ bonuses”.

“I am a passionate supporter of making more money for teachers. But I think everyone would rather the money was spent on better salaries than being spent on financial gimmicks like getting bonus pay.”

There have been proposals to see teachers’ total pay increased by 35% over five years.

Teachers’ pay has been one of the main issues in the Merseyside Labour leadership race with three candidates pushing a £250,000 salary for the new leader.

Mr Harrison says that he has talked to all the candidates and is “really quite clear there isn’t going to be an executive pay deal in the near future”.

He does support the £250,000 salary level, he says, but emphasises that he is not going to campaign to increase it.

“It’s going to be a function of the bargaining between unions and the Labour party – it’s going to be a fight for more money for teachers and I will be championing that.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Peter Harrison, a child psychologist, is a member of the GMB trade union

When asked if he would be prepared to campaign for the “free market” in the education sector, he said it was not the role of unions to “teach capitalism” but there would be a role for market forces.

“I don’t think being a union leader is about being a free marketeer.”

“That is part of the process of negotiation for unions and there are going to be times in the future when you might have to deal with a private company wanting to take over a school. I don’t think we should stand against the market. It’s where it’s going to be.”

Mr Harrison also says that members of the teaching unions “can vote with their feet”.

“If they like the NUT leadership, they can leave the union. There’s no magic wand for teaching unions when it comes to recruitment and retention.”

But he adds that he would “bring in the brightest people” to fight in schools.

The General Secretary election is expected to be announced next month.

If confirmed as general secretary, Mr Harrison will take over from current leader Kevin Courtney, who is standing as Labour’s deputy.

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