Monday, April 09, 2007

Unity is Strength – 2

The Times Educational Supplement provide an invaluable service with their Internet Staffroom (the General Teaching Council tried and failed with their ‘Discussion Forums’ and the NUT web site contains loads of boring circulars and messages from the General Secretary, but nothing from the membership), it’s just that some of the posts don’t exactly add to the advancement of human understanding. There’s personal abuse, persistent posters on irrelevant issues (some of them really do need to get out more) and then there’s ‘I went to Lidl’ by ‘Mr Smallcock’.

However, ‘astaire’ (post 17) has written a cogent reply to my article and other pieces on the teacher unions. Here’s the post in full-

It would be a good idea to have ONE teacher union, and a good start would be for ALL the teacher unions to meet and set course for change by AGREEING on something that ALL can go along with.

However, just around the year 2000, ALL the teacher unions met to agree to something, but after prolonged (and joint) talks ONE union decided to pull out (for reasons other than the published ones).

This was the workload agreement. And it is a crucial agreement.

It is at that point I decided that there is merit in having separate and different philosophies within teaching, and NO teacher union to have overall say in how the future of the profession is decided.

Despite a knowledgeable blog by "Mr Read", many of his claims are false. As a example "there is only one teachers union in Ireland". Actually there are six or seven, including TUI, INTO, ASTI, UTU, as well as NAS and ATL!

ATL does not "organise mainly in the Independent sector". ATL has the largest number of Independent sector members, but it's bulk is mainly in the state sector, and FE (160,000 plus members).

Whilst it is true that all pay claims for teachers are submitted to the STRB, Mr Read forgets to state that ALL pay claims and conditions of service submissions from the "social partnership" (which is ALL teacher unions except the NUT), include those of the government and the employers. They therefore have a chance of succeeding, unlike the outlandish claims which have been a feature of the NUT submissions of the last few years.

Diversity within teacher unions have been a feature of the world wide teacher situation more longer than most think and schisms have also been a common feature. Without such occurances, how much do you think your fees would be for being in a union? I would estimate they would at least double. And if there is only one union who would you go to if the union decided on a course which you don't like?

In Scotland the largest "union" is not a "union" at all! EIS is an "Institution" and as such it's "general secretary" is not subject to re-election every five years as every "union" must do. And there is a sizeable number of the teaching population in one of several other unions, including SSTA, NAS, ATL, PAT, representing around 25% of all the teachers in that country. In Wales the largest teachers union is NAS, closely followed by ATL, and there are of course a smallish number (by comparison) in UCAC. America has two large teacher unions. Most of the European countries have two or more.

Nevertheless I agree that ALL unions should UNITE in common action. The trouble is that ONE of those unions does not want to go the way the rest of the unions want to go. Ergo, disunion right from the start.

And as for "snouts in the trough". Has the person who posted THAT one got knowledge of the way unions operate which is different than mine? What trough? A look at any set of teacher union accounts (published and audited every year), will show a fine operating margin, due to having to keep fees down or cut fees in order to attract members from other unions.

And as for the comment on total fees for a lifetime of £6,000. Is it as little as that? How much for your car insurance then, for thirty years? Or your house insurance? Why not do away with paying house insurance? Just think of what you could save!

Additionally the person who said that would have to remind me of how "cheap" an employment lawyer would be should you need one. At around £200-300 per hour, for advice, plus £3,000 per day for representation in tribunal. Soon eats up £6,000 does it not?

Working together teacher unions could achieve a great deal. The trouble is that not all of them have this idea at the forefront of their minds. Not by any means! And that goes for teachers as well!

Finally there is the "at least with the NUT we were not "sold down the river". How? Has their stance changed anything? Hove they given value for money by NOT taking part in ANY meaningful negotiations for nearly five years? Just WHO has "sold" WHO "down the river" here?’

Firstly, ‘only one teaching union in Ireland’? Yes, wrong. In fact all primary teachers belong to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), secondary teachers are members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI). To my knowledge none of the British based unions have any significant membership in the Republic. It is more complicated in Northern Ireland because both British and Irish based unions organise there, as well as local unions like the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU).

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers does have 160,000 members in both schools and further education colleges. However, I can’t find the percentage that is employed in the independent sector, maybe someone else could help here?

My point about the unions not directly negotiating on pay is valid, even more so as the government have ‘instructed’ the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) that pay rises for 2008 – 2011 should not go beyond 2%.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) may have described itself as an “Institution” in order to escape Tory anti-union laws but in all but name it is a union (the EIS is affiliated to the TUC and STUC). I don’t know how effective the EIS is as a union, it’s probably more due to the different political landscape but they don’t have Ofsted, the national curriculum, SATs tests or league tables. Some of the reasons why teachers are queuing to cross the border?

The workload agreement? What have we gained exactly? The NAS traded PPA time for primary teachers; in return schools were able to use teaching assistants to cover classes. An ATL survey, reported in this week’s TES, found more than a third were only paid higher rates when they covered a class (in some cases an extra 15p an hour) and nearly 60% did not have a clear system of supervision to support them or a defined job description. The workload agreement has also delivered the joys of ‘Payment by Results’.

The NAS really has become the government poodle, they refused to support the NUT campaign for increased London Weighting, didn’t want to join the NUT action against SATs and two years ago (until the leadership were overthrown by a rare conference revolt) were the only union not threatening action over cuts in pension entitlements. Union? A good case to answer for under the Trades Description Act?

‘Astaire’ is right that diversity within teacher unions is a common worldwide feature. In France and Italy there are several teacher unions, however, pressure from the membership forces them to act together and unite in common action.

Another correspondent accuses the NUT of being ‘strike, strike, strike’. Obviously they haven’t been to the NUT Conference because the leadership spend most of their time opposing action – ‘too early’ or ‘too late’ – and even if a resolution is passed they promise to ignore it any way.

The only valid point is that it isn’t just about passing Conference resolutions, you have to win the membership over as well. Strikes in the public sector also need public support, this is something that the NUT lost sight of in the 1980s with one-day guerrilla ‘no notice’ strikes that lost parental sympathy.

Faced with a neo-liberal Blair government the unions hopes of social partnership have been dashed, from academies to support for Ofsted, testing and league tables, you could put a cigarette paper between their policies and the Conservatives. The main problem is that unions are weak and ineffectual in this country. The government tries to rob the low paid public sector workers of their pensions – we have apologetic strikes. The French try some minor changes in employment laws and everyone walks out on strike. Unions are there for collective action not just as insurance associations, that’s why the Friendly Societies declined.

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