Striking problems

13th September 2013 at 01:00

"Strike plans herald autumn of discontent" (6 September) and Gerard Kelly's final editorial ("Not a long goodbye, but a heartfelt one", 30 August) both highlight the issue of how education professionals should be represented.

It is perhaps unfortunate that, by statutory definition, unions are "trade" unions. Teaching is a profession, and the historical method of settling trade employee-employer disputes - striking - is not appropriate for a caring profession in the 21st century, especially when the dispute is with the government, not schools or children. As Mr Kelly puts it, "don't allow teaching to be misrepresented as a sullen, whingeing, down-at-heel trade".

Teachers' strikes are empty-gesture politics. Stephen Exley's story is right in saying that "there appears to be little chance that (they) will have any direct impact on big issues". They serve only to enhance education secretary Michael Gove's standing with his party and the popular press - and increase the membership of my own, no-strike union.

At the other end of the spectrum are the various "alternatives" that offer "union services without political campaigning". Yes, they provide services but, by definition, they cannot be "union" services, such as representation rights at formal meetings.

"Campaigning" does not have to be "political" or synonymous with strikes. Voice campaigns on professional matters and to raise awareness of issues such as asbestos in schools.

As Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There is a pressing need for a less adversarial relationship between government and the unions." Unions' core purpose is to protect and promote members' interests, collectively and individually. To do so, they must engage constructively with stakeholders - including the elected government, even when they disagree with it.

Deborah Lawson, General secretary, Voice.

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