Editorial - A walkout may be a step too far, but a vote for strike action is justified

13th May 2011 at 01:00

May, as readers of The TES will know, is Zombie Awareness Month. To help kids spot the undead, every day this month the Zombie Research Society is giving away one copy of its essential guide That's Not Your Mommy. May is also the month of organised labour. And the teaching unions, too, are warning that what was once reassuringly familiar will soon change beyond recognition. Hollywood probably isn't ready to make Night of the Barely Living Wage, but the prospect of depleted pensions is proving scary enough to frighten a lot of teachers into considering taking industrial action.

The NAHT has already voted to ballot on strike action and the Association of School and College Leaders is considering a similar move. This week, the ATL and the NUT began balloting their members for joint industrial action (page 10). NASUWT won't be participating yet because it doesn't like team sports and is too busy doing important things with thermometers. But all the unions on this planet are presenting a united front.

There is a head of steam building for a battle over pensions. Heads and teachers are united, moderate opinion is outraged, veterans are as furious as newcomers. And yet there are plenty of reasons why many teachers will tick the "No" box on their ballot papers. Pupils will be directly affected, not the Government, inconvenience will soon exhaust parental sympathy and surely it is trades that strike, not professions?

Above all, the prospects of success look slim. The Chancellor isn't about to return all public pensions to the more generous RPI index, nor ditch wholesale the considered proposals of Lord Hutton (a former Labour minister, let's not forget) just because teachers are getting antsy. Nor is there any realistic prospect that the public will support a strike in defence of a level of pension that most of them do not enjoy but as taxpayers will largely fund.

Yet despite all that, moderate, sensible, strike-loathing teachers should vote for industrial action. A threat, after all, is not the same as a promise and this is the best opportunity teachers will have to stick two fingers up to plans that will make almost all of them worse off. More importantly, although there isn't all to play for, there is something to play for. A "Yes" vote will put pressure on the Government to compromise where it can - on increased contributions and when they kick in, for instance. A "No" vote signals acquiescence.

Finally, Tory supporters should spare a thought for their Secretary of State. Only last month Michael Gove conceded that teachers worked in "unique circumstances" and promised to fight their corner in any fight with the Treasury. A "Yes" vote would only strengthen his arm in those discussions. Or would you send Mr Gove naked into the negotiation chamber?


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