The first thing I was asked to do when I recently rejoined union ranks was to take part in a rally which showed our opposition to the proposed cuts in the Oxfordshire education budget. The second thing I have been asked to do is to vote against a one-day strike motion where I can show my concern about the next round of cuts and subsequent destruction of state education.
I say "vote against" because that is what I have been asked to do by Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who seems to have misread the signs of the times. The recent NUT conference voted for strike action and consequently the union's executive decided on a national ballot. This is to enable the ordinary members of the NUT to prove to the country that the hard-working, responsible divisional representatives were misusing the trust and power given to them by daring to vote against the wishes of the national executive.
Over the past months our union representative has worked tirelessly on our behalf. He voted for strike action and did so on our behalf. To speak in a way that could cast any doubt on his integrity is a sad reflection on the way politicians treat those who do not agree with them. Our representative is not a Marxist, Trotskyist or any other sort of "ist". He is a stalwart Labour (not New Labour) supporter who genuinely cares about the education service. The attack on him and his kind by Mr McAvoy does little credit to the union.
It should go almost without saying that the fracas around Labour's David Blunkett at the conference was a heaven-sent gift to a hard-pressed Government, the right-wing press and to a New Labour Party which has proved it will do anything to get a few more votes. But, yes, it did not do us any favours with the public and for that I am sorry. However, to use it to vilify honest, hard-working members and to say that by voting for strike action we will be endorsing "violent disruption" is fanciful.
I have voted yes to strike action and I hope it will do more than the cosy union-parent-teacher-governor axis to which Mr McAvoy so wants us to belong. If he thinks that parliamentary debate is what we're after he most surely misread our intentions. Nothing of substance was forthcoming from that debate.
I have gained an inkling of what it is like to feel helpless in the face of so much injustice, to have what I was brought up to believe in destroyed while people in power wring their hands and say "We understand but what can we do?"
There is nothing hidden about my political intent. I intend to play an infinitesimal part in bringing to an end this travesty of government and to try to restore an education system of which we can be proud. That's my political agenda, Mr McAvoy. What's yours?
DAVID A HOLT
The Old Chapel Mollington Banbury, Oxon