Defying gravity – the teacher unions

This is a guest post from Martin Brown, the editor of Education for Tomorrow.

Teachers - unions campaigning in BrentIt’s ridiculous. If you’re a classroom teacher working in England you have a choice of three TUC-affiliated unions competing for your membership. If you’re a teacher in Wales you have a choice of four. That could mean separate union notice boards, separate teacher union reps, separate workplace union meetings – and that’s just the teaching staff. It’s wasteful of resources and more importantly, time and again, employers and government have exploited these divisions to the detriment of both teachers and state education.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) evolved from professional associations based in the old grammar schools but nowadays recruits in all sectors including colleges. The National Association of Schoolmasters, Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) is an amalgam of a 1920s breakaway from the NUT by male teachers opposed to equal pay for women teachers, and a union of female teachers who campaigned for equal pay. It tends to be stronger in the secondary schools. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) was formed by the coming together of geographically based teacher associations in the Victorian era to end the scourge of ‘Payment by Results’ (now reborn as performance-related-pay in this neo-liberal era).

Back in 2003, the then TUC general secretary Brendan Barber wrote In the NASUWT magazine Teaching Today; “Having worked with the (teacher) unions quite closely on different issues over the years, it seems to me inexplicable why there should be this organisational difference . . . The people they serve are pretty much identical . . . there are some differences but the common issues absolutely overwhelmingly outweigh their differences.”

Perpetrators of ‘betrayal’

Writing in Education for Tomorrow (81) the next year, Bill Greenshields, (NUT president 2008-09) commented;

“Remember the ‘gladiator’ scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which a nervous Brian approaches a small group of revolutionaries to ask hesitantly, ‘Are you the Judean Popular Front?’ ‘Fuck off!’ comes the indignant reply from their Leader, ‘We’re the Popular Front of Judea!’

“Now ‘fast-forward’ to the 21st Century in Britain, with the three main teachers’ unions about to meet separately at their National Conferences.

Three unions divided, apparently more seriously than ever in recent times, in terms of policy, activity and organisation.

“The NUT has for some months publicly attacked its teacher TUC fellow affiliates as ‘Government Unions’ and latterly as perpetrators of ‘betrayal’. The NASUWT has recently responded with a communication to all its members asking ‘Has The NUT gone NUTs?’, and has followed this up with an instruction to all their full-time and lay Officers and Officials to withdraw from all joint working with the NUT. References in their material suggest that the ATL shares their view, and may be about to say so publicly.”

Since then we’ve had a change of government, further attacks and joint industrial action by first the ATL and the NUT, with the NASUWT abstaining, and then by the NASUWT and the NUT with the ATL abstaining.

In 1996 an organisation was set up to promote professional unity amongst teachers. First named ‘Professional Unity 2000’ and then relaunched as ‘UNIFY – one education union’, Its organising secretary is Hank Roberts, a member of all three unions and currently national president of the ATL. At the UNIFY AGM in 2012 he reported;

“In 2002, the teachers’ unions came close to unity. The NASUWT general secretary Eamonn O’Kane supported it, as did the NASUWT officers. The ATL general-secretary Peter Smith was in favour. The NUT had professional unity as its policy. An independent TES survey showed a majority of the members of all unions in favour. The media had it as a done deal. Unfortunately it fell at the last hurdle.
“If it had succeeded would we have been in a better position today? Would it be Nirvana? – certainly not. We would still have serious problems. The neo-liberal privatising agenda would still be being pressed by finance capital – the super rich and their government. But we would have been better placed and more successful in our resistance.”

Merger

Teachers - unions demonstrating at the Academies Show in LondonThe recent merger of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) to create the University and College Union (UCU), should have set an example to schoolteachers. On a whole series of issues teacher unions have been victims of government divide and rule tactics. With thousands facing pay cuts and reduced promotion opportunities as management allowances are scrapped and replaced with teaching and learning responsibilities, schools are thrown into chaos, teacher unions snipe at one another over who’s to blame and the government gets on with its anti-democratic, anti-working class, pro-elitist education privatisation agenda unhindered.

“With trade unions merging at an unprecedented rate, school teacher unions alone continue to defy gravity,” commented Hank.

Yet at a local and workplace level there’s near unanimity over what needs to be done and staff can find ways to overcome these national organisational differences. Campaigns against academies and free schools have been successful in at least slowing down the pace of privatisation and have brought new forces into the struggle.

The joint action by the NASUWT and the NUT in defence of pay, conditions of service and pension rights has been a hard fought-for advance. As Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy Gen-eral Secretary, wrote in the Summer 2013 issue of Education for Tomorrow:

“Unity in action between the NUT and NASUWT, representing the vast majority of classroom teachers is our best hope to protect teachers and defend education. All the elements of our joint campaigns – the rallies, the action short of strike and the programme of strike action – are important parts of trying to change the balance of forces in the argument with Government. NUT and NASUWT activists need to be planning together at every level on how best to take this campaign forward.

“It won’t be easy and will require much work but who ever told us trades unionism and the defence of our education service would be easy?”

Martin Brown (Editor, Education for Tomorrow)

EDUCATION FOR TOMORROW is produced by a collective of teachers of like mind most of the time and certainly on all vital matters of education and politics. It does not claim to represent any political party of the working class. Nonetheless its aim is at all times to speak in the interests of that class and indeed of all working people. Visit the Education for Tomorrow website here.

25 comments on “Defying gravity – the teacher unions

  1. Interesting, but I also think that it is worth reflecting upon the assumption that teachers are best served by craft unions; when schools also employ 220000 teaching assistants in England alone largely organised either in the public sector industrial unison, or the general union GMB. There are also receptionists, clerks, bursors, caretakers, ground staff, nursery nurses et al.

    When contemplating uniting teachers, perhaps consider uniting all those involved in education.?

  2. Manzil on said:

    #1

    I’ll never forget seeing school administrative staff, learning support assistants, janitorial and canteen workers, et cetera, all belonging to UNISON if I recall, going on strike when I was at college, without the remotest public show of support from the teachers.

    Even if there were a single teachers’ union, I doubt we’ll be seeing any wider unity across the education workforce. Maybe I’m being unfair, but the sense among many teachers of their being (or aspiring to be) a ‘profession’ seems to keep them apart.

  3. John Grimshaw on said:

    “…the then TUC general secretary Brendan Barber wrote…” Surely this should read Sir Brendan Barber? He’s finally got that reward he’s wanted for serving the state so well.

  4. John Grimshaw on said:

    There are a number of issues raised in this article which are deserving of clarification. On the issue of Unity it is correct that the NUT has a formal position of seeking one class room teacher’s union. The others do not. The NASUWT and the ATL have consistently shown little interest in the matter over many years. This has meant that the usual session at NUT conference on Unity often just became a ritual as NUT activists knew there was little chance of achieving it. Part of the reason for this is of course the traditions of these long standing unions. The NUT is more activist and takes lines on broader educational and political issues, the NASUWT does not, although it can be militant on workplace issues such as the behaviour of children or conditions. This focus on behaviour of children incidentally, has sometimes led it to be characterised as the “smack ‘em and whack ‘em” union. The ATL is more moderate and often takes a “we’re too professional to take action” line on issues. The NUT is often seen as the most fractious of these classroom unions partly because it has a large number of left factions, but also in fairness because it is the most democratic of the three unions. The NASUWT’s processes are opaque to say the least. Bill Greenshields (see above) is a member of the CPB, I think, and has his own agenda. As what I would call a right-winger on the executive he has consistently opposed action when called for by the left. He is however a seasoned operator with his own agenda and he knows how difficult the other unions have been on the issue of unity. Hank Roberts has been campaigning for unity for some years with little success, but he is often seen as a maverick (allegedly an ex-Maoist to boot) and people wonder whether he wants unity for its own sake or so that he can be elevated to some higher status.

    Which of course is an interesting issue in and of itself. The article seems to assume that uniting unions into bigger and bigger units is of necessity a good. Well is it? If the new union is more activist, more democratically controlled by its members well and good. If it just simply becomes a more flaccid, bureaucratically controlled organisation with procedures that are so impenetrable that members may as well not get involved; what’s the point? We have enough over paid grey men in grey suits in the union movement without creating a few more job opportunities. So unity yes, but it depends how its done. Its good in my view that the NUT and the NASUWT are taking joint strike action (although in my view its too little too late) but the NUT should’ve been taking strike action ages ago. We didn’t because the more conservative members of the executive were too scared to vote for it without the NASUWT, effectively allowing the union to be dictated too by another union. That’s not the sort of unity we need.

  5. John Grimshaw

    Also worth reflecting that from my outside observation, each of the teaching unions have a very heavy case load of individual grievances, disciplinaries, capability hearings, child protection hearings, etc, etc. And to a large degree they are still committed to a servicing rather than an organising model; which means that officers, especially those covering non-metropolitan areas, are very busy.

    If Acadamies move to pay seperate pay bargaining then attanding pay talks across thousands of individual academies may pose a severe capacity issue for the unions, and that itself may be a driver towards amalgamation

  6. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman:
    Interesting, but I also think that it is worth reflecting upon the assumption that teachers are best served by craft unions; when schools also employ 220000 teaching assistants in England alone largely organised either in the public sector industrial unison, or the general union GMB. There are also receptionists, clerks,bursors, caretakers,ground staff, nursery nurses et al.

    When contemplating uniting teachers, perhaps consider uniting all those involved in education.?

    I think this is a fair point Andy. I remember that one year the notion of an education workers union was raised by the secretary of Ealing NUT as a precursor to getting a debate going. However it did not meet with much resonance other than with elements of the far left you have come to dislike. The NUT only recruits qualified teachers. The others in theory do recruit others but the numbers are minimal. As you say this reflects the aristocratic nature of the teaching unions but also there are practical difficulties with a general education union. If the teachers unions were to change their spots and to start recruiting support staff there would inevitably be accusations of poaching, and vice-versa. If the teaching unions can’t manage unity amongst themselves how easy would it be to get it with Unison or GMB? Since the massive extension by the last government of the use of support staff in schools, especially HLTA’s, and the acceptance of un-trained staff in Academies and Free Schools (I note Labour’s position this morning) there has been a fear that such staff would be used to undercut teacher’s conditions. Equally since teachers must direct support staff (and performance manage them in some cases), putting both sets of workers in an odd relationship, support staff may not want to be in a union with their “superiors”.

  7. John Grimshaw: Equally since teachers must direct support staff (and performance manage them in some cases), putting both sets of workers in an odd relationship, support staff may not want to be in a union with their “superiors”.

    It is a very difficult relationship. In my expereince, most teachers lack the skills for supervision, and are not adequately trained for it; and the standards of senior management in schools is appalling.

    I only mention the question of an education union to be mischevious, but my experience is that when proposing or organising joint trade union action against – for example – education cuts, activists from all teaching unions ( and regardless of whether they are “left” or “moderate” activists) are shocking at excluding UNISON and GMB,

    NUT are the worst, becase during consultation with the last Labour government, NUT opposed the creation of a National School Support Staff negotating body, that would have regularised and improved T&Cs for hundreds of thousands of low paid workers.

  8. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman:
    John Grimshaw

    Also worth reflecting that from my outside observation, each of the teaching unions have a very heavy case load of individual grievances, disciplinaries, capability hearings, child protection hearings, etc, etc. And to a large degree they are still committed to a servicing rather than an organising model; which means that officers, especially those covering non-metropolitan areas, are very busy.

    If Acadamies move to pay seperate pay bargaining then attanding pay talks across thousands of individual academies may pose a severe capacity issue for the unions, and that itself may be a driver towards amalgamation

    I can’t speak for NASUWT/ATL but I would agree that there is a massive amount of such “servicing” going on. In my experience, in metropolitan areas where NUT branches are active much case work is done by elected officers who are teachers with facility time agreements. Paid officers are “brought” in when cases can’t be resolved or when the cases in question are going to take up a lot of time. Or when the case is very high profile. Organisation is done by elected/members of associations and divisions with quite a degree of leeway as to how they do it. What organisational things paid officers get involved in at Hamilton House or the regional offices can be a mystery. Of course in large rural divisions meetings may not happen and union reps maybe hard to recruit. Where teachers work in small primary schools (lets say) any meeting might require travelling such long distances as to make it impossible with most teacher’s work load.

    Some Academies pay nationally agreed conditions, many do not, although I have seen many that pay more rather than less. Usually in the form of some divisive bonus for “good behaviour” (Mossbourne Academy for example). The introduction of mainscale PRP is likely to increase the amount of case work significantly.

  9. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: It is a very difficult relationship. In my expereince, most teachers lack the skills for supervision, and are not adequately trained for it; and the standards of senior management in schools is appalling.

    I agree. Although you could also have added after “supervision” and don’t want to.

    Andy Newman: are shocking at excluding UNISON and GMB,

    Maybe, although when I was active in Camden we had a good record of including Unison. GMB were under-represented in the borough.

    Andy Newman: NUT are the worst, becase during consultation with the last Labour government, NUT opposed the creation of a National School Support Staff negotating body, that would have regularised and improved T&Cs for hundreds of thousands of low paid workers.

    I don’t remember this. Explain.

  10. John Grimshaw,

    This deeply unsavoury contribution by John Grimshaw provides an insight into the subjective problems that hinder trade union unity in teaching and illustrate how the right wing and ultra left standpoints on this issue converge.

    Setting aside his personalisation of the issues involved and the attribution without evidence – of the supposedly base motives to Bill Greenshields and Hank Roberts (incidentally both comrades who have been elected as president of their unions) the essence of his position is that because not all teachers have reached the same level of consciousness then militant action should remain the preserve of the minoirity who are prepared to take it. Furthermore, that organisational unity should be deferred until teachers have reached the same elevated level of consciousness.

    It is difficult to imagine a more effective recipe for defeat or one more likely to be favoured by the government and the employers. Or one more hopelessly informed by mechanical and undialectical thinking.

    Look at the problem another way. The existence of different teacher trade unions reflects historical differences that arose from conditions that no longer exist and which need to be overcome.

    Is it not likely that winning the widest range of teacher opinion for decisive action and progressive policies is more likely to achieved in one union – where teachers in each school and locality and at national level participate in the same discussions and agree action together – is more likely to result in that action being successful.

  11. John Grimshaw,

    what is there to explain

    The last government was in negotiation with UNITE, UNISON and GMB over the creation of a national school support staff negotiating body
    UNITE, UNISON and GMB all supported this in the best interests of their members
    the teaching unions were consulted
    I heard the NUT opposed the idea

    I think the burden of explanation lies with NUT, unless my (well informed) sources are incorrect.

  12. John Grimshaw on said:

    Nick Wright: This deeply unsavoury contribution by John Grimshaw provides an insight into the subjective problems that hinder trade union unity in teaching and illustrate how the right wing and ultra left standpoints on this issue converge.

    You clearly have not given any thought whatsoever to what I was trying to say. Furthermore I only mention by name the two “comrades” in question (I assume you mean they are yours) because they were introduced in the article. I didn’t think all the thrust of the article was wrong. Rather I felt it was a bit lite.

  13. John Grimshaw,

    You clearly have not given much thought to what you actually said.
    If, in response to an argument for trade union unity, someone – instead of dealing with the arguments – called me a ‘right winger’ with ‘an agenda of my own’, or wondered whether I wanted unity for its own sake or so that I could be elevated to some higher status I might just infer that they were more intent on character assassination rather than reasoned discourse.

  14. John Grimshaw on said:

    Nick Wright,

    I merely sought to point out that the road to unity is not as clear cut as it seems. And that furthermore the article above contains extended commentary by people who have a political agenda of their own (as do we all maybe). Maybe it would have been better for SU to have a more expansive article which could have included the views of a broader group of people. This may not have been apparent to other readers who are not familiar with our union.

    You attacked those of us in the union who wished to see immediate or quick action by accusing us of being ultra-left. That the comrades who wanted such speedy action were largely “Trots” and that of those who didn’t many were “Stalinists” who have been embedded within the union to me is undeniable. I accept that this hypothetical split I have conjured up is not quite as straight forwards as that, but I am not clear what your side in the union have done for quite some time.

  15. John Grimshaw on said:

    Nick Wright: instead of dealing with the arguments

    What arguments were there to deal with in this context? The quotes were largely of the Monty Python nature. I was trying to expand on these issues and explain what I thought about these matters.

  16. John Grimshaw,

    John
    Lets start with what we agree.
    The road to unity is not as clear cut as it seems. Agreed
    A desire for speedy action is not a defining characteristic of the ultra left. Agreed
    Maybe it would have been better for SU to have a more expansive article which could have included the views of a broader group of people. The ‘maybe’ is not controversial.

    Where I think we might disagree is in relation to the dynamics of a merger process.

    The last conversation I had with Eamonn O’Kane (his untimely death is much regretted by advocates of unity) centred on the highly subjective factors impeding unity.

    My take then, and now, is that much of the opposition is rooted in routines and in the natural reluctance for union activists to surrender their sphere of influence and existing leverage to an uncertain future. That is the polite and charitable explanation.

    A less charitable one might note that both left and right wing explanations can always be found for deferring the possible loss of sectional advantage. For the vast bulk of teachers – especially those starting their first school – the divisions are incomprehensible and in many places people join whatever is locally active. I remember my first encounter – on teaching practice and admittedly a long time ago – was with teachers who couldn’t quite recollect which union they were in.

    Where I profoundly disagree is with your assertion that: “The article seems to assume that uniting unions into bigger and bigger units is of necessity a good.”

    It doesn’t. It starts, as any reader of the estimable Education for tomorrow knows, that the campaign for professional and trade union unity is predicated on the basis that all teachers should be in the same union because they share the same objective interests and occupy the same position in the class structure.

    We would think it odd if bus drivers were in different unions based on their attitude to passengers behaviour, that bin men should remain in separate unions if one was more bureaucratic or less innovative than the other.

    Of course unions that have grown up in different conditions have different characteristics but these can be adapted to new conditions. Just so long as the teacher unions remain disunited the objective basis for resolving differences is absent and foot draggers have an alibi.

    You resolve your own dilemma when you assert that NUT strike action did not take place because: “the more conservative members of the executive were too scared to vote for it without the NASUWT, effectively allowing the union to be dictated too by another union.”

    One union, one decision making process. If these ‘conservative members of the executive’ are out of touch with what action the majority of teachers are prepared to undertake the militants stand at better chance of replacing them or changing their stance within one union.

  17. John Grimshaw on said:

    First, the article. When I said that the people mentioned in the article had an agenda I was not alleging some form of wrong doing, rather I was stating that both of them have their own similar political positions and clearly will speak from their point of view. In fact both of them are on the editorial board of the magazine “Education for Tomorrow” something which doesn’t really come out when both are referred to as ex-president/president. They are representative of one of the NUTs left factions, in this case associated with the Communist Party. This is why a more “expansive” article would have been better. Any way we agree on this. Secondly, having returned to the quote by Bill Greenshields and then re-read the whole article (issue 81 2004) I can see that some confusion may have arisen by using a selective quote. The article goes on to say:

    “The origin of this disunity lies in a Government trap set to undermine the vigorous joint union campaign on teacher workload. The Government successfully divided the Unions (as previously analysed in this magazine) and hijacked the workload campaign, in order to pursue their ‘workforce remodelling’ agendaÉ the planned substitution of Teaching Assistants for teachers.

    The NUT spotted the hijack, and refused to sign up. What they didn’t spot — or at least didn’t oppose — was the Government ‘divide and rule’ tacticÉ though it couldn’t have been clearer if Schools Minister Miliband had been physically carrying a wedge and mallet. They should have done everything possible to re-establish unity with the support of the TUC — but in fact began a high profile campaign of attack, not primarily on the Government, not simply on the misguided policies of the other unions, but on the other unions per se — condemning them as ‘Government unions’. ”

    It would be easy for outsiders to infer from the original quote that the “mad ultra lefts” (as you say) of the NUT were flinging insults at the other unions for straight forwards sectarian reasons. As Bill goes on to say there were in fact good reasons for the NUT to take its position of opposition to the Labour governments plans, and presumably by implication to disagree with the faint heartedness of the other classroom unions. The headlines originating from NUT head office may have been over the top, but in any case if I remember correctly they actually came out just before there was election for secretary after MacAvoy had retired. MacAvoy was firmly on the right, as you know, and I would be surprised if there was not “politicking” going on. In other words the “ultra lefts” were not guilty guvnor.

    As to what you say Nick. I am confused by:

    Nick Wright: A desire for speedy action is not a defining characteristic of the ultra left. Agreed

    I thought we were being criticised for being to willing to lead our members over the top in futile strike action, not being slow to do it. :)

    However I do agree with some of what you say concerning the unwillingness of people with different entrenched spheres to rock the boat. But pig headedness is not the only reason why people don’t want to change. The actual traditions of the unions do count on the ground. You say “For the vast bulk of teachers etc…” well true to an extent, but teachers later on in life remain in the union they are in for political reasons as well as for an easy life. Also bear in mind that student teachers usually join all unions as its free and then tend to make a firm decision later on.

    If and when a unification process is set up(?) then the terms of the process and what the union would be like are important. I am in favour of unity but not at any cost. So for example the NUT is relatively democratic. I would not like to see that lessened. I would not want to see the creation of a larger but more bureaucratic union where members have even less access to what actually goes on. Now the counter argument to that may well be that no-one will get anywhere if lots of pre-conditions are raised, but for those of us on the left surely the creation of an even less combative union defeats the object. Actually this sort of reminds me of the amalgamation of the EETPU with the AEU. The EETPU was notoriously undemocratic and right-wing, the AEU on the other hand had a much better reputation. After the amalgamation guess which tradition won out?

  18. John Grimshaw,

    Good. A substantial measure of agreement. My point was that the opposition to unity can come as easily from the right as the ultra left. (incidentally, I am beginning to doubt the un nuanced analytical force of some of these categories given that I keep finding myself in agreement with all kinds of recovering trotskyites, maoists and social democrats.) Usually to their discomfort.:)

    Generally I come down on the side of the broadest organisational unity even if this means a setback for the left. A good example is the civil service union PCS which brought together four or five grade based unions each with a different, an in some cases poisonous internal culture, differently led by right wing Labour, left Labour and communist alliances, and substantial Trotskyite factions.
    Organisational unity created a new dynamic in which transformed the political culture and, not without some problems, has been a substantial success.

    Thus the question of tradition is important but not decisive.
    In my opinion there is no such thing as a left wing trade union (or for that matter a right wing one). There are only organisations that have a temporary leadership and unless such a leadership enjoys the confidence of its membership and is able simultaneously to maintain that confidence and renew itself with new generations of members and activists it will vanish.

  19. Diane Randall on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    Personally attacking individuals is a diversion from the real, important issues at stake. That of course may be the reason for the personal attack. Should there be one union only for all education workers? Of cousre there should. A strong, united large group is inevtably more effective in the fight for a good education for all children, decent pay and conditions for all teachers and ancliiiary staff in schools and FE and HE. The issues between these sectors are basically the same as each other! A divided front is weak and easily weakened. Why do there have to be more ‘suits’, who says so? Surely it is up to union members to decide and engage experts and other workers as they see fit for the purpose of furthering the unions aims, and adequately dealing with members needs and proper representation. Don’t put up imaginary brick walls!
    Of cousre there

  20. John Grimshaw on said:

    Diane Randall,

    Diane, I am not personally attacking anyone. I will say however when I disagree with their politics as should anyone else of mine. I have already said in response to a comment made by Andy that I think there is nothing wrong in principle with a general education worker’s union, although there are difficulties with achieving it, partly because of the “odd” position of teachers within the working class. If of course by education workers you in fact meant the narrower definition of classroom teacher’s unions, I refer you to the debate that Nick and I are having. Furthermore I believe that the NUT and UCU, although not the same union, already have a very close working relationship, which is no bad thing in my view.

    However I am confused by this:

    Diane Randall: Why do there have to be more ‘suits’, who says so? Surely it is up to union members to decide and engage experts and other workers as they see fit for the purpose of furthering the unions aims, and adequately dealing with members needs and proper representation. Don’t put up imaginary brick walls!
    Of cousre there

    The point I’m making is that I don’t think the working class movement needs amalgamations that result in less control by the membership and an increase in the numbers of unaccountable bureaucrats. There don’t have to be more suits, but the predominant model of trade’s unionism is for exactly that. I was just about to start singing then: “What we need…is an Alternative Ulster.” What we need to build is a democratic union where it is “…up to members to decide…” what happens with their union and for a real process that allows that to happen on a regular basis.

  21. Diane Randall on said:

    Of course you can disagree with other people’s politics, but what is not clear to me is why some people’s former/current/whatever political allegiances needed to be identified by you. It came over as if you were attempting to discredit the original article with this information. Be that as it may, but you add nothing to your own arguments by doing this, and you do not succeed in detracting from the article. Most sensible people are interested in the facts and arguments only.

    More importantly, returning to the discussion about the article in favour of unity, of course there will be many difficulties to overcome, many peopled to be reassured and convinced of the stronger position all education workers would be in, and the better children’s interests would be respected with one united education union. At this stage this is an aim and, like all aims needs to be argued for at every available forum.

  22. John Grimshaw: I have already said in response to a comment made by Andy that I think there is nothing wrong in principle with a general education worker’s union, although there are difficulties with achieving it, partly because of the “odd” position of teachers within the working class.

    This is a very important insight. The ‘odd’ class position of teachers highlights an area of theoretical uncertainty that would be usefully explored with a discussion about how the class structure of Britain has recomposed over the last few decades.

    The ways in which the teaching ‘profession’ has been constituted since the expansion of higher education in the sixties and seventies goes a long way to explaining the persistence of divisions within it. The original ‘rationale’ for the existence of different unions hardly apply.

    The proletarianisation of teaching has eroded some of the social distinctions that used to apply and the entry into higher education of more working class kids has narrowed the social distance between most teachers and many working class fames but there are still very powerful ‘petit bourgeois’ influences at work.

    A big loss has been the clear sighted alliance between teachers unions and the working class movement in action for the common school. In this, Labour, and particularly its academies programme, has powerfully contributed to the further class stratification of the system.

  23. Diane Randall on said:

    Nick Wright you have identified two important areas: firstly, the identification by teachers that they are working class. Many more do than used to be the case, through the greater employment of teachers from backgrounds which they themselves would have classed as working class. They could see that they were employees in identical ways to their parents and grandparents, and like them had no power in the same ways. Confusion arose and arises still because professional work, like teaching requires higher educational qualifications such as had always been the province and privilege of ‘middle class’ workers. This was always an artificial distinction and barrier. A worker as employee, without the power to alter society other than directly as a result of his/her labours is working class. A communist, (-yes a communist!) long- since dead, made the situation very clear when he said that the majority of professional workers know that objectively they face the same struggles and battles as other workers (-in factories etc.), but have difficulty adapting to this subjectively. Furthermore, the waters have been deliberately muddied by the mainstream media which likes to plug the notion that ‘we’re all middle class now’. Having a bit more education – although very welcome, and living in a property-owning ‘democracy’ does not make us anything other than a working class, often
    saddled with a lot more debt and still no more power.
    The second important reference you made was to the ‘common’ school. How do we organise to
    get equality of opportunity and provision in every locality when we have successive governments dividing us with every conceivable ploy : different types of schools, with more of them out of local authority control, teachers in these schools with potentially differing pay and conditions and with employers answerable to nobody and so and so on? Confronting these complicated issues whilst disagreeing in different unions is madness!

  24. John Grimshaw on said:

    Nick Wright: (incidentally, I am beginning to doubt the un nuanced analytical force of some of these categories given that I keep finding myself in agreement with all kinds of recovering trotskyites, maoists and social democrats.) Usually to their discomfort.:)

    Hi Nick. Does this mean your are a recovering Stalinist? :)