After 20 years of calm, the day of action could herald a more fractious future

25th November 2011 at 00:00
The special meeting of the EIS has underlined the union's renewed sense of purpose

There was great excitement at Hillhead High recently, when we were visited by a genuine modern media personality. Of course, someone had to explain to me who our visitor was, as her rise to stardom, alongside her body of work, had somehow passed me by.

In fact, I did rather expose my lack of "street cred" when the headteacher approached me, in my role as head of drama (which means I know how to work the stage lights), and said: "Larry, I need to talk to you about Pixie Lott."

I replied in the affirmative and innocently asked, "What class is she in?" - a response which caused some hilarity and shaking of heads among the Glasgow delegation to the EIS Special General Meeting, held the day after the visit, just when the papers were full of reports and even photographs of the exciting occasion.

As it happens, I missed the great day as I was attending an EIS executive meeting that Friday, grappling with the intricacies of pension reform, the fall-out from McCormac, and the looming day of action.

Ms Lott is 20 years old, so she wasn't even born when I last took to the picket lines. In fact, even teachers need to be 47 or older to have been previously involved in strike action. That's quite a revealing statistic. It means that around half of the teachers taking action on 30 November will be doing so for the first time.

On the one hand, looking back, it testifies to the period of tranquillity that "McCrone" ushered in, without which something as radical as Curriculum for Excellence would have ground to a halt long before now. Looking ahead, however, this fresh initiation is, perhaps, a portent of a more fractious future. Troops can become battle-hardened quite quickly.

I say "perhaps" because nothing is set in stone. Even on the pension front, despite a seemingly intransigent Coalition position, some movement has happened simply based on the threat of a strike.

There's little doubt, however, that the trade-union profile of the teacher organisations is coming to the fore. At the EIS SGM on McCormac, there was a singular sense of purpose in defining the union's opposition to the report and its potential interpretation by Cosla. Internal wrangles over the pre-summer deal were simply absent as delegates realised that a united voice was essential. There was a fresh confidence, also, bolstered by the pension ballot.

One delegate wore a T-shirt bearing the message "I still hate Thatcher". I asked where I could buy one, but the growing militancy among teachers is much more than a throwback to the politics of the 1980s.

As for Ms Lott's visit, I suppose with one million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 unemployed, it was nice for the students to share in a success story.

Larry Flanagan is education convener for the EIS.

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