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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Teachers act against 'racists'
Gary Eason
BBC News Online at the NASUWT conference

Ava Packer
Ava Packer said the priority should be racist behaviour
A teachers' union is considering how to defend itself from infiltration by members of "racist and fascist" organisations.

Delegates at the NASUWT teachers' conference voted to explore a rule change to allow it to exclude members of organisations such as the British National Party.

And it is to campaign for a law change to defend the rights of trade unions to deny membership to such people.

No evidence was presented that the NASUWT had been targeted, but teachers said other unions had been.

Books defaced

Some teachers also spoke of racist behaviour among their pupils, echoing concerns raised at the NUT teachers' conference over Easter about children being recruited outside school gates.

John Hemingway
John Hemingway is appalled by racism
Katie Rowley, a religious education teacher from Wakefield, said books had been defaced and some children openly referred in classes to a neighbouring city as "Pakiville".

But much of the debate at the NASUWT annual conference, in Llandudno, focused on whether the target of their energies should be people's actual membership of far-right organisations, as the motion proposed - or their behaviour.

Arguing that the key thing was behaviour, John Hemingway from Birmingham said he found racism repugnant.

But how would someone's membership of an organisation be determined - would there be a "witch hunt"?

The BNP was a legitimate political party.

"If people want to belong to a legitimate organisation that is their right," he said.

"Belonging to an organisation is a democratic right: their racist behaviour is not."

He was supported by primary school head teacher Ava Packer, who came to England from Jamaica at the age of five.

"As a black person, it goes without saying that I feel personally repulsed by racist and fascist organisations but black people don't need more legislation, there's already plenty that serves no purpose whatsoever," she said.

"It's the manifestation of racist behaviour, however subtle, that needs to be focused on and challenged."

Threats

Southampton teacher Peter Tippetts argued that to act against someone for belonging to an organisation was inherently wrong.

It was "taking their own values of saying 'the company that you keep is enough to judge you by'," he said. This was "absolutely crazy".

But Oldham history and geography teacher Frank Hunt said he had experience of classes being selected for disruption - with threats that Young BNP members would target citizenship classes.

Chris Keates
NASUWT deputy general secretary Chris Keates: Concerned
"It is organised in the pupils and organised in the parents, and we have got to fight that organisation," he said.

And Chris Lines, who proposed the main resolution, said: "People have a democratic right to join a political party. Well, we have an equal democratic right not to have them as members of our union."

Terry Bladen from the union's national executive said it was not some sort of philosophical debate that was needed.

He said teachers were called at home after speaking against far-right organisations.

He said they were told: "That brick through the window last night: guess where it came from?

"We know which school your children go to. We know which route your children take to school."

Need for change

Another executive member, Dave Battye, said that as things were, he could stand as a BNP candidate in an election and "you could do damn all about it".

The union was currently "shackled" by its rules. The motion would allow it to fight back against "a corrupt scheme of infiltrating trade unions".

In the event, the conference decided overwhelmingly that membership of "racist and fascist organisations" was the key.

After the vote, the union's deputy general secretary, Chris Keates, said it would now explore changing its rules to prevent members of the BNP from being members.

Asked how they would be identified, she said people might become aware of their activities and report them.

"But I'm not going to pretend it's an easy thing to do. The TUC is wrestling with this as well," she said.

People were joining trade unions then, if they were expelled for racist activities, were suing the union and using the damages to fund their activities.

A change of rule would protect the union from such action.




SEE ALSO:
Racist leaflets school warning
12 Apr 04  |  Education
Anti-BNP front promises action
03 Feb 04  |  Politics


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