Divided by a load of mugs

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
As a loyal member of some years, I read my local National Union of Teachers' Update with interest. Boycotts, workforce reforms, mugs?

Yes, mugs. We read: "A few years ago the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers distributed mugs to their members."

The article explains how, after discussion, the local executive held back from doing the same. However, a recent decision to reverse its policy means that "NUT mugs will be distributed and will get to you eventually".

Trumpets of the cavalry follow. No longer will we NUT members have to drink from the soiled pot of a rival union, no longer suffer their ceramics and bear their beakers. Our union is supplying us with our very own mugs. We are saved.

Scoffers may dismiss this issue, but in the newsletter we are told that "some member said they were sick of seeing NASUWT mugs and asked us to supply NUT ones".

Is that a turn of phrase, or did some of our comrades actually vomit every time they saw an NASUWT mug? The article conjures up a world where anything is possible.

Given that you can rarely find a clean mug in a staffroom, all additions will be welcome, and it is worth noting that both unions concerned plough a wealth of energy into supporting teachers, my beloved branch being exemplary.

However, the item was a disconcerting reminder of the heat with which organisations you would expect to see making common cause can end up despising the very crockery of their comrades. I have found this in years on the left - the Socialist Workers despise the Revolutionary Communists and both hate the Workers Power Brigade.

Should it ever start, I give the revolution a few hours before they all fall out regarding logos on the commemorative dinner service.

Our politics is trapped in oppositional mode, disabling the chance that one group may find some sense in the words of another. Over the years I've seen teaching unions waste the chance of being a single, stronger voice, preferring to stay divided.

The NUT, currently rolling members towards a boycott of the national tests, should think back a decade to when the NASUWT led the way in boycotting them while the NUT still vacillated, before limping along in pursuit.

There is much to be said for listening and learning from each other. Can we bury the politics of pottery and get real?

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