Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Uniting the unions in education

Phil Clarke writes

UNITY IS STRENGTH - but how can we achieve it?

In 1963, there were 183 different unions affiliated to the TUC. By 1995 this had fallen to 70.

Now, the number is below 60.

The overwhelming reason for this drop in number is mergers between unions. This process in the last decades has involved the creation of massive organisations, most recently and most obviously with the creation of Unite in 2007.

The benefits of merging are perhaps obvious. After all, unity is strength and less duplication of resources, greater financial clout and reduction of different unions representing different grades in the same workplace is to be welcomed.

However there are downsides in some cases. For example, the union can lose specialist understanding of certain parts of its memberships' work and sections of workers in smaller areas can feel uninfluential in these huge organisations.

The teachers' unions, excepting the creation of ATL, have stubbornly refused to follow this trend. This is despite the prospect of combined teachers' unions not carrying the disadvantages that mergers can bring. We are a single workforce that is doing similar jobs on similar terms and conditions regardless of primary or secondary, academy or comprehensive. A combined teachers' union of 600,000-plus would be tremendously powerful, let alone the prospect of an even- larger all-education union.

The huge advantages of one teachers' union or even simply a merger of NUT and NASUWT hardly need to stated. One voice in negotiations, one voice in the media and most importantly every strike that would bring out 80%+ of the teachers in any school or area you care to name.

This situation is recognised by rank and file teachers in the classroom. I would confidently predict that a ballot tomorrow of NASUWT and NUT members would result in a large majority in favour of a merge.

So why hasn’t this necessary unification happened? One factor has to be the relatively stable membership numbers of the major teaching unions. This may mean that classroom teachers facing the fierce attacks on the profession feel the need for unity far more strongly than their respective bureaucracies.

The NUT does have policy far superior to the NASUWT on supporting ‘one union for all teachers’ but the intransigence of the leadership of the second biggest teachers' union means appeals for unity from the top are not enough.

However, even if the NASUWT cannot be persuaded into taking national action alongside the NUT for the moment, the current industrial action campaign opens up real opportunities.

If the NUT announces an ongoing campaign of action, then some NASUWT members could move across to the NUT. It will certainly create the space and atmosphere for the debate on unity to happen in every staffroom.

Alongside bold action to defend members, the NUT needs to be looking at how it can help our members make use of the desire of NASUWT members for one union to encourage them to pressure their own leaders.

Rather than delaying effective action until we have one union, or risking tail ending the NASUWT in the understandable desire for unity, it is a strong combative NUT that will now apply the most pressure towards one union for all teachers.

Phil Clarke (newly elected to the NUT National Executive for Kent / East Sussex for 2014-16)

--   http://derekmcmillan.com

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