By Philip Parkin, General Secretary of Voice: the union for education professionals
Voice's position is clear our members don't go on strike. It's why we're here.
With some exceptions, it's perfectly legal for public sector staff to go on strike. If some believe that's the best way for them to prosecute their case, so be it. I don't agree with them, but I respect their right to take such action. However, I believe it harms our collective cause and our status as professionals.
In the cause of public sector pensions, Voice wants the same outcomes. We believe that previous reforms to the schemes haven't been given time to work. The Government's improved offer doesn't address some key issues. However, it does provide a basis for ongoing negotiations which, along with that offer, could be jeopardised by strike action.
We're responsible for the children we educate and care for, and, as professionals, it's essential we protect them as well as our own interests. Those whose lives are disrupted by strikes children and their parents are not responsible for decisions on our pensions. There's little public sympathy on this. Strikes will reduce it further.
An editorial in The TES, "The Red Flag has turned Burgundy. Unions must too" warned the unions of their "failure to be credible professionals" "belt out Jerusalem at conference, not the Red Flag think BMA not RMT, professional not trade, colleague not comrade . brothers, you have to face up to what you are: middle class." OK, Gerard Kelly was being tongue-in-cheek, but he has a point about whether we are or are perceived to be education professionals or militants engaged in some form of class struggle. The rhetoric from some suggests they want the latter.
What's more important resolving the issues or going on strike? For some, going on strike is the means and the end. One contributor to our blog wrote: "a strike is to cause disruption". Another commented we were barking not biting. I believe strike action is more akin to barking than biting making a lot of noise but the teeth are in the negotiations.
There will be many who believe the threat of action caused the Government to make an improved offer. However, I believe it's just one step down the negotiating road. You don't show all your cards at the start you reveal them as the game goes on.
There will also be those on 30 November who don't really want to be on strike. The low turn-out in most of the ballots means only 29-37% of the eligible electorate actually voted in favour. Many will support their union that day but may not be persuaded into further action. The thousands who have joined Voice recently are testament to the disquiet many have felt.
We've had abuse even threats over our stance "scab" is their favourite but while we don't strike, our members do their own work, not that of colleagues, during industrial action.
While there's a democratic right to strike, there's also a democratic right not to strike. One lesson we should surely teach our children is that, while we can disagree, we should, in a democratic society, respect others' right to hold different views to our own.
What matters is that there is a satisfactory outcome, and that will have to be negotiated. Let's get on with it. Let's make progress.