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'A united education union would fundamentally shift the balance of power'

Hank Roberts, organising secretary of UNIFY - One Education Union, formerly known as Professional Unity 2000, writes:

In 1996 I and others formed Professional Unity 2000, a cross union body aimed at achieving professional unity across the teacher unions. We decided to name it this because we thought the advantages of such a move was a no brainer and it was entirely reasonable to set ourselves the target of reaching it by the year 2000. 

In my youthful enthusiasm I had never envisaged how difficult it would actually be. However, in 2002 with Peter Smith general secretary of ATL on board, Eammon O'Kane general secretary of NASUWT a firm advocate, and NUT's clear policy being pro-unity it looked as if we were set to achieve it. The press had it as a done deal.

It was not to be. Eammon had pushed the process harder and faster than one might have chosen and at the NASUWT conference the move to take it forward was lost. Little did we know at the time that he was terminally ill with cancer and was determinedly pushing to see it through before he died.

I will always remember the NASUWT annual conference in Jersey the year before, where I was known as an open campaigner for unity and definitely not the flavour of the month. As I entered the hall Eammon walked down from the front towards me and shook my hand in welcome as a public show of support for unity. He was truly a scholar and a gentleman.

Fast forward a decade and more and once again it looks a possibility that we might be able to make some progress in the next couple of years. I am not counting my chickens, but if you don't go for it, it won't happen.

If we united in one education union it would be massively powerful and a fundamental shift in the balance of forces. It would enable us to address the fundamental threats we face to state education. It is our task to make it a reality.

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