Update: 25 March 2016
Update: 6 May 2014
Now David Blunkett and The Times are supporting an “off the wall” idea of one union to “dilute” the power of the NUT – despite the NUT’s support for the idea, because of the “power” this would give to “one of the largest unions in the TUC”, with the implication that the NUT, as the “largest” union, would dominate it!
It seems that there are annual calls for “one union”, but is there any real appetite for this? Has anyone actually asked the profession as a whole?
See below for our views on this issue.
22 November 2013
The NUT has launched a campaign for “professional unity”, asking:
“One union – why now?
- Because teaching as a profession, and the value of qualified teacher status, must be defended;
- Because many current educational ‘reforms’ are harmful to children; and
- Because teachers deserve fair pay, pensions, conditions and a work/life balance.”
Yes, all those are true that doesn’t answer the question “one union – why now?”
The NUT claims that it “has proudly collaborated with NASUWT, ATL, NAHT, UCAC and ASCL on different campaigns at different times to ensure the profession’s expert voice shapes education and schools policy”, conveniently forgetting how ATL, which went on strike alongside NUT and NASUWT not so long ago, is now extolling the virtues of “debates” and “negotiation” over industrial action.
Perhaps the independent, non-TUC, no-strike Voice is an inconvenient truth that gets in the way of “one union for all teachers”, alongside the growth of so-called “alternatives” to unions that are even invited to union negotiations.
“We are asking other teaching unions to talk with us about the possibility of forming one union.” One wonders what NASUWT and ATL think of the NUT’s call for “unity”.
Almost every year it seems, there are editorials in TES or elsewhere calling for union unity. Like the annual rite of sniping at the exams that are “getting easier”, it’s one of the repetitive rituals that we have to go through.
We’ve heard it all before: “There are too many teacher unions.” “What’s the difference between them?” “Why don’t they just get together?”
It’s an old chestnut so we make no apologies for repeating below the arguments we’ve made before.
Those who argue in favour of one union overlook the following.
- There are ideological differences. Voice, the union for education professionals, does not take industrial action, while others favour such tactics. Voice is the only union for teachers that has a no-strike policy. Its Cardinal Rule states that: “Members shall not go on strike in any circumstances”. Strike action includes any kind of industrial action. Voice could not amalgamate with another union, despite an abortive attempt to do so with ATL many years ago, unless they were prepared to take on board our core values.
- Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their national unions and are represented by some of the England-based unions. However, in Scotland, there is one dominant player the EIS and that can make it difficult for other voices to be heard in negotiations because of the EIS’s ability to outvote all other parties as was demonstrated by the row over the negotiations on Scottish teachers’ pay and conditions when EIS managed to override the wishes of the majority of Scottish teachers and many of its own members left the union. This demonstrates one of the main flaws in the argument for “one union” speaking for “all”. If one union did emerge, before long there would be a ‘break away’ union or unions over policy differences.
- The “teachers’ unions” are not just for teachers. Some represent teaching assistants, technicians, bursars and other education professionals. Lecturers have their own unions and join some of the “teachers’” unions. Diversity of views is positive, not negative.
- Unions are about more than conference controversy and strike action. Away from the media spotlight that such events attract and are largely staged to attract unions advise, represent, help and inform their members and negotiate on their behalf, individually and collectively. After consulting its members, Voice has moved from traditional debate-based conferences to CPD-based events open to members and non-members.
- Big isn’t necessarily beautiful. Not everybody wants to be part of a monolithic organisation. Many Voice members value the personal service they get from a smaller, independent organisation that is large enough to operate successfully on the national stage but knows many of its members personally.
In the research undertaken amongst teachers before the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) rebranded to become Voice in 2008, we found that many of them could not distinguish between the different unions; could not name the General Secretary of their own union; did not know what their union stood for and had many misconceptions about the unions. “I’m in the NASUWT because it’s not militant” and “I’m in the ATL because it doesn’t strike” were some of the clearly mistaken views we received.
If some of the TUC teacher unions decide to merge, then Voice will continue to grow stronger as the options that teachers have and the differences between the unions come more sharply into focus.
The unions can work together when required and they can work separately, but one union for all teachers? It cannot and will not work. We might wish for the existence of dragons and unicorns, but it ain’t going to happen!
Vive la difference!
Do let us know your thoughts.