When faced with these issues I cannot understand why we would not have every member of the NUT and NASUWT out on strike…
This blog post is being written as a result of two conversations I have had this week about the upcoming teachers strike. One argument against going on strike was because of pressure from head teachers and another argument was because it was a matter for “personal conscience.”
During this blog post I will argue in favour of both teaching unions taking legal strike action. Because what is a union? A dictionary definition of a union is:
[yoon-yuhn] Show IPA
1. the act of uniting two or more things.
2. the state of being united.
3. something formed by uniting two or more things; combination.
4. a number of persons, states, etc., joined or associated together for some common purpose: studentunion; credit union.
5. a group of states or nations united into one political body, as that of the American colonies at the time of the revolution, that of England and Scotland in 1707, or that of Great Britain and Ireland in1801.
At no point in this definition does it state that members act as individuals. The whole point of being in a union is collective and united action.
I confess that I am left dumbfounded by the argument that the upcoming teachers strike is a matter for “personal conscience.” No, it is not. Every member of a union has the opportunity to express their opinions of “personal conscience” during the strike ballot period. Every member has the opportunity to lobby their executive member or division secretary and express their views; this could be by attending a local meeting, by email, by phoning their representative or even twitter or facebook.
Postal ballot strikes are infamous for their low turnout. This low turnout is often trumpeted in the right wing press as an indicator of low support for industrial action, I don’t believe this is true. A low turnout in a postal ballot is only an indicator of the universal problems with postal ballots. The vote went in favour of strike action and therefore our executive called a strike.
To those who are fundamentally against and who campaigned against this action I understand that accepting the will of the majority who were in favour can be a bitter pill to swallow. However, as a nation we proudly refer back to our democratic heritage as evidence of our sophisticated civilisation and yet some have difficulty in applying the law of democracy to all things. Democracy rules and we should all follow that law. How I wish I was able to reject all laws passed by this coalition government because I didn’t vote for them and I fundamentally disagree with them!
I have often argued that I, as local union officer, am only as strong as my members allow me to be. Without a united force behind me my power to help and/or intervene is weakened. What individual members in schools must recognise is that the union which is there during redundancy meetings, on the end of the phone offering support /guidance and/or a shoulder to cry on can only be there because of the unity of all the members that comprise it.
If you want your union to have the power and resources to support you when you need it then the last thing you should do is undermine that strength and power by taking a misguided stand based on “personal conscience.”
Regarding the argument that members are suffering from pressure from head teachers I have much more sympathy. There are members in our schools that have bullying heads who disregard and try to disrupt legal union action and I recognise how fortunate I am to be in a school that acknowledges that this strike is not about an individual school but it is a national issue and therefore it should be treated in that way. Nevertheless, the fact that these bullying head teachers exist makes collective action in their schools crucial. How much more difficult would it be for heads to ‘pick off’ individual teachers if there was a united workforce in their schools? I realise that how difficult heads can make teacher’s working lives and one of the reasons we are taking strike action is to try to prevent Performance Related Pay which would give these unscrupulous heads even more power. I also know that the life of a rep in these schools can be a thankless task. One of things I have been the proudest of is the decision of the NUT and NASUWT to take collective action and this should make taking strike action easier. It would be very difficult for a head to ‘pick off’ members of his/her school he/she found that every member had decided to support the strike.
Support your union, support your colleagues, support your friends and then you can guarantee that we will always be there to support you.