ScabsApril 24, 2008
I wrote before about how I support the strike because, although pay isn’t that bad (well not unless you are in a shortage subject) teachers are discontented and should start kicking up a fuss.
However, my school will be remaining open with only a minimal number of us on strike. Overwhelmingly, my fellow NUT members would rather be scabs than rock the boat, even though some of are a lot unhappier at work than I am. It was not an option I considered, even as I began to feel more and more exposed on the issue. I suppose I have personal reasons for this. My grandfather worked on the railways before the war and used to tell me stories about how workers would be maimed at work, then sacked for being disabled (even though they could still work), and the only way to stop that was for the rest of the workers to down tools. Apart from the belief that effective trade unions are a fundamental part of workers’ rights, a fundamental part of decent working conditions and absolutely indispensable for anybody engaged in a difficult or stressful job, this has also left me with the unavoidable feeling my grandfather would be spinning in his grave if I ever turned scab, and so I doubt I ever will. Discovering that many teachers don’t realise why they should support their union, or, more seriously, that many teachers don’t have the vaguest clue what a trade union is for has been a surprise, so I thought I’d better write a quick reply to what I’ve been hearing from the scabs:
I’m not bothered about striking. Unions negotiate for their members. If they are perceived as weak then they have a weaker negotiating position. Union members who ignore their own unions are undermining their own unions. They certainly have forfeited the right to complain about their own working conditions. If you tell the bosses you won’t fight you deserve what you get.
I only joined for legal cover. Unions are not the AA of the work place. You could buy legal insurance without joining a union. It is no excuse to say “I joined a union but not in order to be part of a union”. That means that you are stupid with your money as well as disloyal to the interests of your profession. It’s particularly daft for teachers who (to my regret) have a large choice of unions including those that never strike.
I’d strike over behaviour or working conditions but not pay. Unions cannot be effective if members pick and choose what issues they will support industrial action over. I’m the first to admit there are more pressing issues than pay, but pay is what the union has voted to strike on, failure to support that strike will undermine teachers on all issues. You either believe in collective action or you don’t, there’s no point believing in it for conditions but not for pay.
The strike will make us unpopular. What good has the popularity of teachers done us? It might not feel like it but teachers have had overwhelming support from the vast majority of the public and the vast majority of parents for a very long time. But this has been based on the sympathy people feel for victims and has done us no good at all. The idea that we should continue to be victims in order to continue to keep the public pitying us is ludicrous. I’d rather not be a doormat, even if it’s a doormat with a good reputation with the public.
A day’s strike might be ineffective. You can never be sure what it will achieve. But scabs are only making it more ineffective.
I can’t afford to strike. This would be merely pitiful if the strike wasn’t over pay. If you are short of money then you need to fight for more, more desperately than those of us who won’t miss a day’s pay. Yes, it might require sacrifice, but you hardly have a right to complain about your pay when you were unwilling to fight for more.
The kids can’t pass their exams without me being in today. Get over yourself.
I’ve been getting more money anyway due to promotion. There’s a parody of the red flag includes the lyrics: “The working class can kiss my arse, I’ve got the foreman’s job at last”. Declaring “I’m alright, Jack” is just selfishness. You don’t just strike for yourself, you strike for everyone particularly your less fortunate colleagues. Of course, the thought springs to mind that if you really don’t care about your colleagues then no wonder you got promoted.
I said earlier about having been raised to believe in trade unionism as a prerequisite for decent working conditions. There is another side to that. Being a scab is just plain wrong in that culture. I have to assume that many teachers must have had more generations of the middle class in their families and don’t recognise this attitude, and that this is combined with ignorance of why loyalty is required from trade union members. But there is one comment that I am hearing from scabs that winds me up. It can go in front of any of the reasons above. It is: “I am not a scab but…” Let me make it clear: If you are not turning out when your union requires you to go on strike then you are a scab and that is the end of it. Your self-pitying, selfish excuses for your disloyalty do not make it go away.
Feel free to remind me to write a blog about all the things I hate about the teaching unions. I almost wrote one already during the Easter conferences. But, even when the unions are at their worst, there is no excuse for being a scab and striking over pay at a time when many of our schools are short of qualified teachers, and many children are learning important subjects from people who have no qualification in them, is hardly the worst.