The dark side of the whiteboard - A demo? Shopping might be nicer

4th February 2011 at 00:00

Whatever happened to trade unions? In the good old days, when women wore bras that lifted and separated to make them suddenly pointier, and men died from heart attacks caused by the static in their bri-nylon shirts, unions were a force to be reckoned with. They were championed by hoary-handed sons of the soil who were so charismatic they could radicalise an Avon party and bring the country's talc production to a halt faster than you could say soap on a rope. But all that seems to have changed.

If my school is anything to go by, next month's TUC demonstration against public sector cuts might be a little light on teachers. So far, there has not been a whisper about it in the staffroom, but that is hardly surprising. In terms of small talk, politics is dragging up the rear, trailing behind the optimum thickness for loft insulation and the benefits of indirect hot-water cylinders. You would think that with our heritage of coal mining, ship building and the Jarrow March, we would be the first to brandish placards in Hyde Park. But as far as I'm aware, no one from my school is going.

It wasn't always like this. Long before the advent of online social networking, the best way to make new friends was to huddle around a brazier with people in donkey jackets, yelling "Scab!" at passing Ford Capris. Mind you, I was never much good as a political activist. Not knowing the difference between Trotsky and Lenin and having an allergy to Palestinian scarves and middle-class cant scuppered my chances with the Socialist Workers Party, the SAS of junior politics.

However, I'm tempted to turn up for the march next month. It will make a refreshing change from TK Maxx on a Saturday. I rescued the latest NUT magazine from the recycling bin to see if it had any useful information. The Teacher is a comforting mix of Das Kapital and Tesco Magazine. The cover bears the heading "Education cuts: the real cost" and shows a picture of blunt-edged primary art scissors; the bizarre implication being that George Osborne is making his massive public sector cuts using a pair of left-handed safety scissors that would struggle to chew a hole in a two-ply tissue. Next to it is the NUT logo, which looks more like a trademark for a Norwegian hand cream than a call to arms for the nation's teachers.

The inside was little better. The few calls to action were sandwiched between commercial plugs for Countdown (the union's retail partner) and adverts for Aviva insurance. The two-page photo spread celebrating "Teaching in the 21st century" also bore a sub-heading commemorating "the NUT's 140th birthday, and 40 years of Countdown, the shopping and leisure discount specialists". At least the union got top billing. Ironically, the real adverts introduced a deeper level of social responsibility. For #163;150 you can sponsor cleft palate surgery and save a child's life, or for #163;1 a week you can sponsor a West Highland Terrier and receive pictures of grateful, abandoned dogs. Given that the Westie was exceptionally cute, I suspect the direct debits will be written out for the puppy porn.

Uninspired, I flicked back to the front. Underneath the heading "Teachers' pensions" was the bleak prediction: "work longer, pay more, get less". But presumably not if you use your Countdown discount card.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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