Thursday, 17 October 2013

Teachers - the new vanguard of the movement ?

A new experience for me today. Like many NUT and NASUWT members in London, I am on strike.

Ironic really after all those years spent in the highly unionized world of 'the print', but despite having a high level of control over control over the workplace that amazes many people, I was never personally on strike. 

We routinely refused work that came in from non-union firms, the NGA supervised apprenticeships and training, and the green list/white card system gave the union an (often corrupt) virtual control of hiring - but nowhere I worked  ever actually had a strike.

Maybe this is not so surprising. The firms I worked in, like most printing houses, were small/medium sized businesses. Relations in the workplace were generally pretty good, but any real sort of dispute would have been very up close and personal -  and was so generally avoided.

My experience of schools has been very different. In recent years, teachers have almost become one of the new militant vanguards of the labour movement. But in a very genteel kind of way.

At my school at the head's briefing one Monday morning, the reps of the two major unions were politely invited to addresses everyone about the issues and arrangements for the strike. As today got closer, the head invited us, although emphazising that we were not obliged to notify him, if anyone was planning to work on the strike day so he could make a decision as to catering arrangements. 

Of course the strike today is about the government not about an individual headteachers, and I am sure that many enlightened heads who are at the forefront of Gove's attacks will take a sympathetic attitude. But it still made me think of how a one day strike would have been handled in my former life. 

Even in the glory days of the NGA, I suspect that bitterness and intimidation (of one sort or another) would have been the first reaction from management. Doubly so these days, and so for many many non-union workers in the private sector  strike action has become almost unthinkable. 

Most teachers I speak to seem blissfully unaware of this situation - just as in the old days printers took it for granted that the union would always be there  to protect us. 

In some ways this  mindset is fantastic - but it is not without its dangers. Sadly the strength that any group of workers gets under capitalism is essentially fragile.

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