A Few Points About the Teaching Unions

June 27, 2013

When there’s a teaching strike on, whether it affects me or not, I tend to tweet a link to this post “Scabs” from a strike day in April 2008. It argues that union members are morally obliged to go on strike when there union votes to go on strike.

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 possibly could have also reblogged it today, but I think that perhaps this would have suggested that I still feel exactly the same way now as I did then. However, this is not quite the case. While I have the same opinions, I’m not sure I have the same feelings. My context has changed.

In 2008 I was in a school with dozens of NUT members. When the strike was called there were a grand total of two of us who went on strike with even our NUT rep going into work. This was absolutely shocking to me. Now I am somebody who is frequently accused by the “educational left” of being a Tory. My fellow striker was not simply somebody who would not merely be accused of being a Tory, if I remember this correctly, he was a fully paid up young member of the Conservative Party. This is something that sticks in my mind every time I hear how left-wing the teaching profession is or when I hear people appealing to some kind of left-wing solidarity as a grounds for opposing perfectly sensible policies in education. There are those who will, of course, paint refusal to co-operate with one’s own union as some kind of principled stand for the sake of the children.But the impression I got was of colleagues who cared more about their own pay and their own reputation with senior management. It was noticeable that a number of those schools I knew of which did shut down tended to have NUT members as heads. Even when it comes to being a trade unionist, the bosses tended to have the final word. I was given every reason to be cynical about those who wouldn’t strike and while I couldn’t express the opinion at work I was happy to blog about how I felt.

Why don’t I feel the same way now? Well, firstly, my school hasn’t been affected yet. It has one of the biggest and most active NUT branches I have encountered so I guess I would be disappointed if I saw the same thing happening again. (If you aren’t a teacher, you probably don’t understand how little that actually means when it comes to the day-to-day running of the school. It really just means people are more worried about being sacked than in other places I’ve worked.) So when I think of people not striking I’m not thinking of colleagues putting a day’s pay and their careers first. Now I am tending to think of people I know and respect who have become utterly disillusioned with the teaching unions and I share a lot of that disillusionment. I’m not going to write a rant about the teaching unions on the day of industrial action, but I do not have confidence in either their ability to protect their members or to represent them. This latter point is the one where I most sympathise with those who want nothing to do with the teaching unions. The unions need to make it clear what they have to offer to teachers who don’t mind teaching, testing, phonics, exams, discipline or making children smarter and a good start would be to remind their leaders and activists not to talk like they represent all teachers when they oppose those things.



  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. […] on industrial action and representation of views, but this post is not about them, however I read this from @oldandrewuk earlier today and it gives some […]

  3. I am an activist on the left of the NUT and recognise what you say. Too often we mistake a trade union for a political party. I think the difficulty arises because teaching, unlike almost all other jobs, is inherently political. The trick is deciding where to draw the line. I was proud to help defeat a motion to NUT Conference condemning faith schools but I also strongly support the NUT’s position opposing selection at eleven. I based those judgements on whether the overwhelming majority of teachers agreed with me or not. Perhaps you agree with my judgements, perhaps not. In order for the trade unions to remain relevant we have to reflect the breadth of teacher opinion and welcome that diversity. I have been thinking how a union could represent the professional concerns of both you and @HeyMissSmith, because I suspect that you are both bloody good teachers (your passion for the job certainly suggests so). The only way I can square that circle is by arguing for professional respect, control for teachers, and for more CPD to foster school communities that are full of teacher led discussion and debate.

    I would welcome you to NUT Conference because I know that you speak for many teachers, I hope that you take up your own moral challenge and attend association meetings and argue for your position. Our profession desperately needs strong voices like yours and our unions need to be renewed (and merged) so that we speak for this generation of teachers.

  4. I was put off teaching unions (having been a shop steward in another union in a former life) when the EBac first came out and they opposed it on many grounds but one was that teachers of creative art subjects were losing their jobs. They said nothing about MFL teachers losing their jobs when the Labour govt announced there was no longer a requirement to learn an MFL at GCSE.

  5. […] see voting to strike. This is visceral. I’m not sure if I can even explain it. (Note: Andrew Old’s views have changed, but I think he’d still call me a scab for not […]

  6. […] 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. MY more considered views from earlier this year are here. […]

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