One voice can't speak for all

2nd September 2011 at 01:00

It was interesting to read about the launch of SPTA, a new union, in last week's TESS. The union has been set up in direct response to the considerable backlash against the EIS's position regarding recent changes to terms and conditions. Specifically, it has been set up because groups of teachers believe that the EIS does not speak effectively for them.

I couldn't agree more with EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith's response to this development, that "the effective representation of teachers' interests would best come from a single, unified organisation that speaks for all."

In an ideal world one unified organisation which effectively represented all interests in its membership would be the best option. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world and the legitimately different perspective of different people or groups within the teaching profession cannot come to the fore in a catch-all union. It is inevitable that the interests of the majority of the membership will override the interests of smaller groups, even if their perspective is legitimate.

Indeed, in 1975, AHDS was established when a group of primary heads felt that the EIS no longer properly supported and represented them in their role as school leaders. It is still the case today that where a teacher and a promoted member of staff are both EIS members and they are in dispute, the class teacher will get support and the promoted member of staff will be expected to rely on the support of the local authority.

So, while SPTA and AHDS are not likely to be singing from the same song sheet at all times - as we seek to represent our respective membership groups and their interests - I wish them well on their new venture. In our imperfect world, teachers need to have the option to join a union which best aligns with their role and values. These unions can speak with one voice when they agree and, the rest of the time, can support and present the perspective of their members. It works that way in the rest of the UK; it can work that way here, too.

Yes, there are dangers in having a fragmented voice for teachers, but those dangers appear pretty small if the single "unified" voice doesn't speak for you.

Greg Dempster, AHDS general secretary.

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