Thursday, 10 April 2008

There is power in the union

I've been asleep.

That's the only excuse I can think of. I've been hearing about the strike action, and even commented on it a few days ago, but I haven't really paid much attention. I'm not in the National Union of Teachers, and it seems that neither are many of my colleagues, because nobody has really mentioned the strike at all.

That is, until today. The NUT rep called a meeting of members, and then there was a flutter of talk about what to do, along with a handful of reminiscences about the last major strikes many years ago. But there still wasn't any brushing off of banners or talk of picket lines. Instead, the staffroom chatter at lunchtime was focused on how it would affect pensions. I was just nodding along to this. The catchment area of the school isn't an affluent one by any means, and a teacher's wage would already seem highly desirable to many of the people in the area. Plus we're about to enter a recession, blah blah blah went the talk, and I found myself agreeing. What's the point in striking, was the general mutter, until one lone voice chipped up from a bloke who, in the old days, would have been sat there smoking a pipe.

"The problem with bloody teachers is you all think too much," he growled. "There is nothing to debate here. We have unions for a reason. If the government sees that nobody can be bothered, and that the Union doesn't have the support of its members, then they will never listen to a union again."

The whittering stopped while people digested this, and the man went back to sucking on an imaginary pipe.

And I felt ashamed.

I couldn't believe I had been considering overlooking the strike, ignoring its very presence and possibilities, because it's not my union and it doesn't seem to bother me much right now. Me, me, me. What the hell has happened to me? What happened to that militant student campaigner who liked nothing more than shouting at demos, who spent hours distributing leaflets on workers' rights and humanitarian causes? Why am I not even seeing beyond the end of my own nose?

In short, where have I gone? Who is this middle-of-the-road nimby who's replaced that feisty former self, so passionate about politics and putting the world to rights?

A fog lifted.

We NEED to strike. ALL of us. Every public worker who is put upon by the government, who has to accept violence in the classroom or ambulance or casualty ward, who is told they can't have a pay rise despite politicians awarding themselves huge bonuses and furniture from the John Lewis list - we all need to stand up and show the government that there is power in our unions, and that we have the right to reply and to protest. And if we don't, then it's true: the government will see that we've all fallen asleep and don't want to stick out our necks and raise our voices for what truly matters.

Then consider the future. Unions with no influence over anything any more. Workers of the future with no right to ask for better working conditions and pay. And a government rubbing its hands with glee because another corner of democracy has been eroded away.

Yesterday I wrote about China and the conditions that many of its population live in, after watching Chinese School on BBC4. The government controls every aspect of life. Every school has an attached party official. Our government already tries to interfere with every element of education; how much more would it do so if there was no bite in our unions?

So I urge you, if you have the chance, then you must STRIKE. Do it not for yourself, but for every worker present and future who one day will need somebody to speak up for them and their rights.


Anonymous said...

Great post - spot on.

oldandrew said...

One thing I'm curious about (particularly in light of your comment on my blog) how did you end up not being in the NUT in the first place?

Ranting Teacher said...

Ah, oldandrew, 'twas a tale of a useless local rep letting down the side...