Why I’m leaving the NUT

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!)


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16 thoughts on “Why I’m leaving the NUT

  1. primaryblogger1 22 March 2014 at 2:58 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.

  2. 90maz 22 March 2014 at 5:05 pm Reply

    I too am not striking on Wednesday, as I’m not sure what we are striking for.
    I was in town today and a member of the NUT tried to hand me a flyer about teaching conditions. I told him I already had one, but he did not take the hint that I, too, was a member and did not engage in further conversation.
    I’m feeling rather let down by my union at the moment

  3. bottomsbray 22 March 2014 at 6:40 pm Reply

    I quite agree that if you feel unable to support your colleagues in their action you should leave the union and find one more in tune with your views. Obviously, I disagree with your view that the ultimate sanction is no longer required in answer to the continuing attack on pensions, pay and working conditions: I will withdraw my labour on Wednesday. I respect your principled stance but have little respect for my colleagues who simply pocket their pay and moan.

    • Michael Tidd 23 March 2014 at 4:19 pm Reply

      Indeed, I feel quite strongly that if you’re not going to support action, then it’s time to change union. But I fear many (most?) teachers are not in a union for the role a trade union is intended to play.

  4. teachingbattleground 23 March 2014 at 2:04 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. PlatPlat 23 March 2014 at 4:09 pm Reply

    Apologies for what will be a long reply, but I hope I can encourage you to reconsider.

    The introduction of performance related pay has single-handedly all but destroyed the national pay system and teachers’ ability to bargain collectively on a national scale. This was very deliberate and a further step towards full deregulation and privatisation. As an NQT, I am a lot less secure about my pay progression now than I was when I started training and we had clearly defined steps on the spine. As soon as I heard about this, I knew I wanted to be in a union that would be leading the counter-effort. PRP isn’t designed to achieve anything educationally, it is meant to increase the profitability of running schools by holding back pay progression. Academies could already do this, but they had to compete with the regulated community schools and practically most continued to follow the STPCD, so Gove had to deregulate pay for everyone. It is also worth mentioning if you ever need to find a job elsewhere you no longer have pay portability and will likely have to negotiate your pay at interview, and perhaps take a substantial pay cut depending on how much you need the job.

    The retirement age of 68 is intrinsically linked to the pension scheme as a whole. The DfE still refuses to publish the valuation of the scheme which certainly raises questions as to the necessity of the changes. Teaching is also vastly different to shop work, being far more demanding and stressful. With my cynical hat on, I don’t believe the government honestly believes teachers will be able to bear to work to 68, but believes most teachers will retire early and take associated cuts to their pension after paying in their entire careers. The pension scheme is a crucial component of the reward package and continued erosion will reduce the ability to recruit and retain high quality teachers.

    It is also very much evident that Gove has continued his stance of refusing to show willingness to compromise on any of our issues. The STRB decision is not a victory in that sense. The NUT and NASUWT promised Gove that if he didn’t properly engage on the issues then action would escalate, and I think he’s had plenty enough time to do that.

    Having joined NUT leafleting twice this month, I can confidently say that I have found the experience invigorating and encouraging. The public may not know all the details of the dispute (who would expect them to?) but they generally do not support Gove or his policies and are pleased that some teachers are leading the way with action. The line that ‘teachers are damaging their reputation by striking’ is hogwash. And a lot of the public have already had a leaflet, and it is a common response to say when you don’t want a leaflet, so saying you already had one wouldn’t necessarily cause someone to realise you were an NUT member.

    It is clear to me what the action is aiming to achieve- instatement of a national pay progression system not based on PRP, fair evidence-based pension changes, and some leadership from the DfE on addressing the workload issue.

    Will a one day strike by the NUT achieve all of this? Probably not. I think there is a desire for more effective action among members and it will be interesting to see what happens. But what will doing nothing achieve?

    • Michael Tidd 23 March 2014 at 4:14 pm Reply

      A long reply is welcome 🙂
      I agree with many of the aspects you oppose. However, I cannot agree with the drawn-out approach that the union has taken in tackling those matters. If pensions were at the crux of the matter – as originally it seemed they were – then we should have had serious concerted action on the matter years ago when the whole thing started to appear. It’s too late, two years down the line, to still be grumbling about the same thing, without having demonstrated that consistently and purposefully.
      You’ll notice that effective unions stage short-lived but well-planned campaigns over a series of close dates – not one odd strike day each year. If all we achieve is to frustrate parents without getting them to understand the cause, then the whole thing is pointless, I’m afraid.

      • PlatPlat 23 March 2014 at 4:29 pm Reply

        I imagine that pensions were originally at the heart of it, being a new teacher I would be less aware. But then when PRP reared its head it would have had to be challenged and as an issue it is at least as important as the pensions. Most recently with the workload survey being published it proves that there is still a big problem there.

        I do agree that action has been too drawn-out. I imagine coordinating action across two unions has led to delays. Perhaps there was some waiting for the pension scheme valuation and only recently has it become apparent there is no intention to publish it. Purely speculation on my part. I think a lot of the NUT membership want to see more effective campaigning as you describe and are already pushing for this to happen. There is a lot that members can do to inform their union leadership of their views for more effective action and my division are doing just that. At the moment though, are the other unions doing anything more effective to improve the situation than the NUT?

        Wednesday’s strike has already provoked a lot of attention from the national media, showing the issues are still important to many people within and outside education. I think the leadership will have some work to do to move towards more effective action, but to have the confidence to do so I think they need the full support of members on Wednesday.

  6. Michael Tidd 23 March 2014 at 4:36 pm Reply

    PRP and pensions have been consistently ‘rearing their heads’ throughout the campaign, and indeed are already in place now, further weakening the case for action.
    I agree that the matter of several unions has complicated matters, but again that is a classic case of the union actions serving the unions leaders, rather than members.

    • PlatPlat 23 March 2014 at 4:50 pm Reply

      There has been some logic to the action so far, even if it has been slow. It seems it took some time to get going, but there has been action short of strike action, then regional strike action, and now for the first time national strike action. Now that the issues have been on the table for some time, and public support remains high (and seemingly increasing), I think there would be increased confidence in taking sharper action following Wednesday’s strike. Though it feels like it has been going on a long time, we may be on the cusp of a stronger campaign of action.

      • Michael Tidd 23 March 2014 at 4:52 pm Reply

        It may seem like building action to you, but actually we had the first national strike back in June 2011 about this matter. This has been dragging on for three years for some of us, and has achieved little.

        • PlatPlat 23 March 2014 at 5:11 pm

          On the whole if there was a union with a better strategy, I would be following you to them. But since there isn’t then I’m staying put and doing my best to support the push for more effective action. I agree that there is some discontent over the current strategy but this can only be addressed by members letting this be known to their division and to the leadership. It may have been going on for some time, but we also need to be seen as being reasonable by the public and the November strike cancellation on the promise of talks probably helped to do that. With the lack of progress, there is a stronger case for stronger action. Action can only be confidently strengthened where the current degree of action is well-supported by the membership. If all teachers left the NUT for similar reasons as you put forward, I’m not sure what would be achieved.

  7. Clive Candy 23 March 2014 at 6:38 pm Reply

    “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.”

    You don’t? Really?

  8. 1951 GL 23 March 2014 at 8:53 pm Reply

    I am in the NASUWT and sympathise with your point of view. My problem latterly has been the unspoken assumption by all the union heirarchies that somehow Miliband’s lot would be any better when drivel comes from all their mouths.
    The pension issue is serious, the workload ridiculous, but no one seems to tackle the real issue – OFSTED – and its fitness for purpose. The notion that OFSTED, or anyone in education is defending “poor” children is laughable without deciding what needs to be done in society as a whole, before dumping the alleged and the real issues on schools. Running an inspection regime managed like Kafka’s Castle, using outside private companies who seem subject to little scrutiny I am reminded of the of the financial services industry where I worked for twenty years – and the evidence of that inspection regime lies all around us.
    Please tackle the real enemy not the straw dolly politicos.

  9. The Strike | thesequietvoices 26 March 2014 at 1:07 pm Reply

    […] articulate the reasons for and against striking much better than I ever will, (see John Blake, Michael Tidd and Michael Merrick) but from a personal point of view, I can’t help but feel that this […]

  10. […] and, now that we’re in our 4th year of the Coalition Government, some members are becoming increasingly mystified about the direction of protest of their Union but mainly they don’t some to have taken an interest in CEIAG in schools. That is until I […]

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