Right to strike

16th May 2008 at 01:00
Your article "Protesters have debased teachers' status and solidarity" (TES, May 2) repeats the accusation by ministers that, despite a 76 per cent "Yes" vote, the NUT strike action did not have democratic authority
Your article "Protesters have debased teachers' status and solidarity" (TES, May 2) repeats the accusation by ministers that, despite a 76 per cent "Yes" vote, the NUT strike action did not have democratic authority. Like them, your commentator bases this on turnout, which was 33 per cent.

If you took the same approach to general and local elections, it is hard to see how anyone would have a mandate. Turnout in the recent local elections was 35 per cent, with Labour winning a mere 24 per cent of that vote and the Tories doing really well to get 44 per cent. So, by the kind of calculation now approved by ministers and The TES, the Labour government has the support of a mere 8.4 per cent of the total electorate, while the party most likely to replace them won just 15.4 per cent.

At the last general election, Labour's share of the total electorate was just under 23 per cent. For that, they get to decide what happens to education, health, foreign policy and so on for five years. For our 76 per cent, we got a one-day strike.

Unions are also the only organisations in our society who are told by law exactly how to make their decisions. There are many things we could do to increase turnout, but we are banned from consulting our members in any way other than balloting them at their home addresses.

Commentators should bear all of this in mind when our mandate is questioned.

Patrick Murphy, Secretary, National Union of Teachers, Leeds branch.

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