Should it be one for all?

THE GREAT DEBATE

Would a single union be in the best interests of teachers? In the first of three debates on the future of the professional associations, Carole Regan and Mike Johnson battle it out.

Dear Mike,

As a classroom teacher and a past president of the National Union of Teachers I fully support my union's policy of working towards unity with the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Speaking with one voice can only strengthen our arguments for better pay and conditions for teachers alongside a better funded, more equal. comprehensive education service.

Teaching has one of the highest levels of union membership of any occupation. We can put our case more effectively if we are united. This will not only benefit teachers but we will also be thanked by pupils and parents.

It suits the Government and employers to see us disunited: it makes it easier for them to ignore or treat us with disdain. Divide and rule is the oldest employer trick in the book. Similarly at school and authority level, one union would speak much more powerfully on behalf of all teachers.

Yours sincerely, Carole Regan

Dear Carole,

As a classroom teacher for 27 years and an officer of my union for almost as long, the unity that I wish to see is one of purpose and action where possible and not an artificial and contrived marriage. I think we need to acknowledge the diverse traditions and cultures of the three main teaching unions.

These differences would immediately surface in any "super union" leading, if not to an immediate schism, then to a prolonged period of factionalism and internal disputes that would play into the hands of our political masters. This would achieve the exact opposite of what the advocates of one union propose.

The classroom teacher is, in my experience, primarily concerned with the issues of workload, pupil disorder and pay. One super union is no more likely to deliver on these issues than our present arrangements.

Let's not get distracted by this issue. Rather we should concentrate on the task in hand by using the structures that we have to launch united action to reduce workload and stress levels.

Yours sincerely, Mike

Dear Mike,

I am in favour of a unity "of purpose and action". How much easier to achieve that in a single union through open democratic procedures.

The distraction for me currently is having to convene three-party talks to come to some agreement before we can get down to the "task in hand".

You seem to have little confidence in the current three-pronged approach delivering; wouldn't it therefore seem logical to combine our various strengths and talents into one union?

You have to ask are the "diverse traditions and cultures" worth keeping? Cultures and traditions change. After all the NAS merged with the UWT. The ATL was produced by a merger. Weren't "cultures and traditions" ditched then?

Classroom teachers are interested in improving their pay and conditions. One union would aid, not detract us from getting there. Polls suggest most teachers want unity. Let's put it to the vote and put our trust in teachers.

Yours sincerely,

Carole

Dear Carole,

While smaller mergers have occurred, they have been between like-minded institutions on a much smaller scale.

An amalgamation of the NASUWT, the NUT and the ATL - encompassing half a million teachers - would be a totally artificial creation whose "unity" would be undermined by factions that would inevitably emerge. It would remove the option for teachers to join unions that accurately reflect their views. My own union has at its heart the defence of its members' conditions of service. The NUT appears much more politicised. The NUT has in recent times lost many members. Could its support for a single union be an attempt to get back to its glory days? Is the proposed merger, in truth, an attempt at take-over by the NUT?

Yours sincerely,

Mike

Dear Mike

The NUT has had a year-on-year increase in membership. Indeed 1,000 teachers joined recently during the action we took in support of an increase in the London allowance.

Your argument seems to boil down to one particular concern, namely the democratic process of debate and resolution of policies. Surely any healthy union will ensure that the views of all members are reflected through democratic procedures. Surely you are not afraid of putting unity to the vote? Your attitude seems to show a lack of confidence in teachers.

All teacher unions have become more "politicised" because education itself has become political with increasing intervention from Conservative and Labour governments. All unions have at their heart the defence of members'

conditions of service. Our joint campaign on workload would be immeasurably enhanced were it conducted through a single teacher union.

Yours sincerely

Carole

Dear Carole,

I remain unconvinced. There is no guarantee a union of half a million members would be any more able to deliver than our present organisation. What is important is the quality of our leadership and the disciplined support we give to it.

I am proud to be an NASUWT member, proud of my union's past achievements and optimistic we can continue to make progress in the future. Big is not always beautiful; having three strong and independent unions is a strength, not a weakness, especially when facing "anti-union" governments. It is harder to pick off three opponents than one.

Clearly, we need to pursue common interests and our national leaders do need to think carefully before entering into public disputes with each other. But an artificial marriage would deny choice to colleagues. A one-size-fits-all union is destined to fail.

Yours sincerely

Mike

Next week: should heads join a teaching super union?

Carole Regan is a National Union of Teachers member and teaches in Tower Hamlets, London. Mike Johnson is federation secretary for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Sunderland. Both write in a personal capacity.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you