The vexed question of whether to affiliate to the Trades Union Congress has been put off for another year by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Signing up with the TUC would cost the 150,000-member association more than Pounds 260,000 and at least another Pounds 78,000 annually. But there are fears that the loss of the union's independence would be an even bigger price to pay.
Both the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers are affiliated to the TUC, as is the Association of University Teachers and the Educational Institute of Scotland. The TUC has not tried to disguise the fact that it is keen for the ATL, traditionally the most moderate of the main teaching unions, to join up.
An investigation by a team of nine ATL executive members over the past year, however, came up with advantages and disadvantages in almost equal measure.
Delegates to the union's annual conference in Cardiff last week agreed that they needed time to consider a report into the investigation and that, if necessary, another in-depth study should be undertaken to help them make up their minds. But they insisted that a firm resolution on affiliation should appear on the agenda at next year's conference.
Whatever the ATL decides to do will be significant. There can be no return to the status quo. A decision not to affiliate will send out very strong messages to politicians and trade unionists.
A relatively high proportion of teachers are in unions though these tend to work in competition rather than collaboration. A new Labour government might be happier if they worked together more closely. It could, on the other hand, find a divided profession useful.
Eddie Ferguson, a member of the TUC affiliation working group and executive committee member for Northern Ireland, said the delay on decision-making was "not a case of ATL sitting on the fence". "The decision to affiliate to the TUC has major implications for this association," he said as he urged delegates to discuss it in their branches and schools.
Chris Wilson, from Cambridge Regional College, said: "The question of affiliation is not about compromising our independence but maximising our influence."
The working party visited three affiliated unions - the EIS, the AUT and the Civil and Public Servants Association - as well as TUC Congress House and its training centre in Hornsey. Three members attended last year's Blackpool Congress.
The working party said there was little doubt that the ATL was seen as a relatively high-status group whose influence might be increased by affiliation. But it added: "There is, however, no way in which these hypothetical benefits can be quantified and set against the costs of affiliation.
"In all the visits the group made, it was apparent that the TUC was seen as an organisation that had substantially modernised itself in the face of dramatic changes in employment patterns over the last 20 years. Inevitably, however, the group felt that there were question- marks over the likely extent of the influence of a modernised TUC."