This post will undoubtedly open me to accusations of being a turncoat and other such things. It will probably change some people’s perception of me – in either direction – and may not make me wholly popular. However, 5 months ago I wrote here about why I was striking, and so it seems only sensible to now say why I am not. Indeed, why I am leaving my current union.
Firstly, let me emphasise my view that unions are generally a positive thing in the workplace, and that they should by-and-large be encouraged. Let me also say that my general view is that when your union calls a strike or other action, then unless there are exceptional circumstances, you ought to take part in that action. For that reason, I must stand by what I believe and in choosing not to strike, I am also choosing to hand back my membership card. In fact, on this occasion because of a school visit I had a legitimate reason for not taking part in the strike and could have done so without making my views clear; my conscience doesn’t allow that.
In October I supported the strike action – and wrote about it – not because of a need to protect my pay, but because of the attempted erosion of working conditions for teachers. I consider workload to be one of the most pressing concerns for the profession, and the threat of the removal of a right to PPA or lunch breaks was unacceptable to me. The matter of changes to pay and pensions concerns me, naturally, but in times of ‘austerity’, it was the unnecessary challenge to our conditions that raised my ire.
That threat has now dissipated. The STRB was clear in its rejection of such an erosion of terms, and while I would be happy to take action in the future should such a proposal rear its head again, I do not see that as part of the current campaign. Which rather raises the question of what is the focus of the current campaign.
My view of industrial action is that it should be targeted. We cannot use withdrawal of labour simply to express our dissatisfaction with political decisions. There are ways and means to achieve that. If we do not agree with the current political agenda, then we have an opportunity to vote at the next election, and perhaps even a responsibility to support the efforts of those with whom we do agree in getting elected. I am happy to continue to pay my membership fee as a member of the Labour party because I would prefer to see a Labour government than the current one. But that is not directly related to my professional capacity.
If action is to be targeted, then there should be a clear indication of what action the employer can take to prevent such action. In this case I do not believe that clarity exists. The NUT claims that the strike is over the combined matters of workload, pay and pensions. On these three arguments they have plenty of reasons why they think things are not good enough, but I see little evidence of what they propose be done to improve things.
I agree with them that Performance Related Pay is unlikely to achieve much. But I don’t see evidence of the damage it’s claimed to cause.
I agree with them that working to 68 seems a challenge for many teachers. But I don’t see why teachers are different from shopworkers.
I agree with them that teachers’ workloads have increased. But I don’t blame central government for that, and cannot see what exactly they expect the Secretary of State to do about it.
The only area where I wholly agree with the NUT stance is on the unfair changes to the pension scheme which have been poorly-evidenced and strike me as an effort to raise treasury funds other than through taxation. If that had been the only issue since we were first balloted in 2011, then perhaps this campaign could have been more focussed? Perhaps action could have been more concerted in the early months rather than drawn out over 3 years. Perhaps a series of well-organised, carefully-managed and well-supported strikes or interventions may have made the message clear. However, what has followed has been the on-going whine of union leaders, with gradually decreasing willingness from those on the ground.
For a strike to be successful, it needs the support of those not directly involved. Occasional one-day strikes over a three-year period have not garnered additional public support, and given the length of the campaign has singly failed to raise understanding of what is sought. If after three years, members in my school are unclear of the focus of the campaign and action, then what hope for the wider public?
I am disappointed to have reached this point. I am frustrated that the ineffectiveness of the union action has allowed the Secretary of State to push through unreasonable changes against the will of the profession. But most importantly, I am no longer prepared to encourage others to take action over matters which are neither fully explained or justified. What is more, I think a ballot now of classroom teachers would yield a very different result to that of 2011 or 2012. It is not that teachers support the government’s moves – let no-one read that into my words – but that they are tired of the long campaign that lacks direction and purpose.
We have been let down.
(And constant bloody answerphone messages from Christine Blower don’t help, either!)