April 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.



  1. Just to say that I support your post on the Guardian weblog:
    “The point of a strike is not to win public support, it is to get a better deal.”

    If the point of teaching is to make parents happy then teachers – and education – will be ripped asunder under the weight of all the different expectations and priorities that would have to be weighed up for each and every class.

  2. The point of teaching and the reason teachers work are two entirely different things.

    I think the strike is pretty silly myself, but think a protest over behaviour/paperwork/this week’s new policy etc. would be far more pointed – and may attract more support because they (first one especially) impact on education directly.

    However, if you are in a union, you should (unless there’s a very good reason) operate as a group. If you are pretty anti-striking, why join the NUT in the first place ?

    If you think the strike is stupid/wrong or whatever, then simply resign and join NASUWT, ATL or PAT (depending on *how* strongly you feel this).

  3. Yes. I couldn’t understand the attitude of many colleagues who were umming and ahhing ‘shall I go on strike’ and I heard many of these excuses.

    If your union is on strike, you are on strike, end of story.

  4. I made a couple of posts on The Times News site in support of English teachers, but they had not been published last time I looked. I believe in unionism and I am disappointed that teachers in Victoria do not all support their union. However, one strike will not do it. The Australian Education Union has been campaigning for 18 months for a better deal on pay and conditions and runnning an impressive media campaign as well as stopping work. It looks like a deal is close, which means according to press reports that the government has moved from an offer of 3.25 per cent a year to one of c15 per cent to bring Victorian teachers up to NSW pay levels (though that may not happen in just one year). Remember that Victorian conditions are already streets ahead of the rubbish you put up with England – classes generally capped at 21 in prep to year 2, at an average of 26 in primary schools and at 25 in secondary schools, lower teaching loads, no inspection, etc. , but they are not good enough for teachers here, and it is the united and intelligent determnation of teachers that won what they have already and will win any improvements. Perhaps if English teachers knew bad they had it on an international basis they would be more willing to act. Good luck.

  5. This may be of interest:


  6. “many teachers don’t have the vaguest clue what a trade union is for”

    Why are you surprised? The conversation in your May blog was not, presumably, conducted amongst the thickest and least knowledgable specimens at school. Some of them, lacking even the most basic general knowledge that does not form part of the requirement for getting a C at GCSE, may well in time become teachers. It comes as no surprise at all to me that many have no idea what a Trade Union is beyond a bunch of robbers who take a chunk of salary every month for what.

  7. Do you mean this one: https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/god/ ?

    Who do you think is going to become a teacher? Ryan?

  8. God no. Teaching is boring.

  9. I suppose it depends on your background. If you grew up in a working class family that donated money to the miners’ strike fund, and where family members would pay their subs or dues regularly at monthly meetings, and where shop stewards were discussed over the evening meal, then you have a good idea of the power of the Union.

    Then again I don’t know how people could have lived through times of black-outs and bread shortages, striking dockers and miners, and be oblivious to it all.

    Altogether now:

    Would you have freedom from wage slavery,
    Then join in the grand Industrial band;
    Would you from mis’ry and hunger be free,
    Then come! Do your share, like a man.
    There is pow’r, there is pow’r
    In a band of workingmen.
    When they stand hand in hand,
    That’s a pow’r, that’s a pow’r
    That must rule in every land —
    One Industrial Union Grand.

    (Joe Hill)

    or a bit more contemporary:

    There is power in a factory, power in the land
    Power in the hands of a worker
    But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
    There is power in a Union

    Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers’ blood
    The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
    From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
    War has always been the bosses’ way, sir

    The Union forever defending our rights
    Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
    With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
    There is power in a Union

    Now I long for the morning that they realise
    Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
    But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
    When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

    Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
    Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
    What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
    There is power in a Union

    The Union forever defending our rights
    Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
    With our brothers and our sisters together we will stand
    There is power in a Union.

    (Billy Bragg)

  10. Frank Chalk, who is in favour of the strikes, raises a couple of points for and against the changes:

    For – Public Sector Pensions give a much better return per pound paid in than those available to the private sector. Why should this unfair advantage exist?

    Against – Teachers’ pensions have always been in recompense for being paid less than their private sector equivalents.

    I’m usually in favour of strikes, and I’m with you on supporting your union to stop it being hamstrung in future; however, this strike seems a bit ill-advised.

    The pensions currently being offered are very, very generous – if you’ve seen any news around private sector pensions recently, you’ll realise that most workers don’t get anything like the deal teachers do, and while the ideal would be to raise everyone else’s pensions, that isn’t going to happen.

    As Frank says, how about saying “fine, we accept the pensions have to be in line with the private sector; however, the work and the pay have to be in line too”

    • I’d be willing to take a pension hit in exchange for an improvement in pay and conditions. But if that’s not on offer then I see no reason that my pension should be brought into line with the private sector, when my pay and workload aren’t.

      And that’s without making the easy point that the ministers making these arguments have pension arrangements far more favourable than those of teachers.

      • There’s not many private sector jobs that offer 13 weeks holiday per annum.

        • The 13 weeks are holidays for students, not teachers. I’m not a teacher myself, but an ex-girlfriend of mine is, and if she’s typical, teachers work 50-hour weeks during term, and 35-hour weeks during the holidays.

          • Teachers do not work 35 houts per week during the holidays.

            • She did. She’d only been teaching for 3 years, so maybe more experienced teachers find ways to bring the hours down. But teachers are working for at least 9 out of those 13 weeks, albeit with flexible hours. It’s not correct to say teachers get 13 weeks holiday per year.

            • I was reluctant to get into this, as I suspect harry is trolling. I would say that most teachers don’t work heavily through their entire holidays, although I have on occasion. However, the amount of people leaving teaching (not to mention the extent to which people seek out management or advisory positions) is ample evidence that the workload for teachers is not easily coped with even with the long holidays. I’m sure it is no worse than other professions, however, a lot of other professions are set up to become less intense over time rather than continually putting most of the workforce through hell.

            • It seems a bit unfair to accuse me of trolling.

              I’m simply trying to point out that comparisons with the private sector are flawed. Which jobs compare to teaching?
              The workload for teachers is, of course, absolutely huge. But there are flashpoints of stress.

              It’s interesting to do a Guardian Jobs search for comparative salaries to see what comes up. None are jobs I’d want to do…

            • I have had a good deal of experience both teaching and in business and over time I’ve felt more and more that the profession has a good deal it could learn from business: not in commercial terms at all, but in terms of routine working practice.

              For example, many teachers who complain about their workload have had no training at all in time management. They don’t really understand it as an activity at all. Doing things “just-in-time” is the norm for so many teachers in so many schools.

              In my early years as a teacher, the intelligent head I worked for employed two stress and time management experts from different industries to spend a few days in the school, and design a stress and time management workshop for staff. I still use many of the things I learned there today. One thing I grasped was that many teachers have this bizarre idea that they are the only people who face their problems. Not only is this not true, but there are in fact many people who not just face the same problems but have highly effective ways of dealing with them.

              Of course there are some aspects of working in a school that are unique: but there are many things schools could do to make teachers working lives more pleasant simply by learning from other professionals.

  11. I got a link to this from a friend who’s a teacher and I just wanted to say “well done”, and that I hope you didn’t get too much hassle if you were out on a picket line today. My dad worked on the railways, as did his dad, and my goodness it teaches you to appreciate unions.

  12. im torn on this one.
    most of my friends are jealous of teachers better pension, job security, shorter hours and long holidays.
    i dont know any non teachers that were pro teacher strike.
    and this comes on the back of a recession and the awful tube strikes which had zero public support (tube drivers have job security and are overpaid for their skill set and task demands).
    its true some teachers work long hours and in the holidays but these are a minority and is usually due to poor time management and inefficient practice.
    when i 1st started teaching I worked for maybe 10 days in the summer. Now its down to maybe 3 days in the summer and none in the other holidays.
    Some days I work to 6pm but generally finish between 4-5.
    Some SLT and MLT in demanding schools work crazy hours but not the baulk of the teachers.
    In the sumer term, teachers lose lots of classes and no longer have to cover absent colleagues or do exam duty.
    So in a good school teaching is not a bad lot. BUT in a tough school with poor behaviour the job is about as demanding as they come. Frankly beyond recompense at times so that type of stress should be factored in.

    • I want to point out that I am not a teacher and am favour of the strike. I have yet to be convinced that the cuts are actually based on economics reasons rather than ideological ones.

  13. […] in favor of unions for myself than I ever was. I was just reading Andrew Old’s diatribe about scabs—in fact, I think that essay was the cause of this one, because I realized again that I just […]

  14. Reblogged this on Scenes From The Battleground and commented:

    I’m not sure I’d be quite as vitriolic as I was when I wrote this for a strike 5 years ago, but I think it’s worth reblogging ready for tomorrow.

  15. Bloody excellent. I suspect many at my place will , be the same and not strike. I am a new NUT rep. I will use some of these ideas to try to drum up support at our meeting tomorrow.

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