“One union for all teachers” – not that old chestNUT again! It won’t happen. Vive la difference!

25 Mar

Update: 25 March 2016
Letter from General Secretary in TES


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.

It also forgets how it has worked with Voice too – for example, on reading tests, and how all the unions campaign together about asbestos in schools as part of JUAC – take a look at all the logos.

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”.

Old chestnut

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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

Perhaps the problem lies with the image  and message those unions put out.  

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.



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10 Responses to ““One union for all teachers” – not that old chestNUT again! It won’t happen. Vive la difference!”

  1. Pete 22. Nov, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I do not want to be associated with a militant left wing union like the nut. When I visit London and see the nasuwt property in earls court it embarrasses me as a teacher. I do not teach to be a union member but because I want students to learn. The deliberate antagonism of the big unions and striking alienates the profession and does not help anyone. Big no on this from me.

  2. Alison Taylor 22. Nov, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I would only wish to belong to a union or teaching council that did not strike and truly represented the majority view of all in the profession (not just those that respond). I do not wish to be ‘represented’ by a militant few.

    Voice is the only union that I wish to belong to.

  3. Richard Fraser 18. Feb, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    Union News: “As NASUWT pulls out of strike action, is it time for one education union?” – [www.union-news.co.uk/2014/02/nasuwt-pulls-strike-action-time-one-education-union]

  4. Frances Stanfield 06. May, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    Keep building our Voice so that teachers, and others, understand the differences and make a more informed choice about who they wish to represent them.

  5. Joyce Watts 09. May, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    This will never happen whilst we all exist.

    One of the really best things that happened to education was when our ‘founders’ had such a great idea in 1970. A sign of our strength is how we have survived through thick and thin through the really bad times which I well remember.

    Now at nearly 85 years, I was one of those who fought for our existence and what we believed in,having some really extraordinary experiences along the way as did many other members of that time.

    With many thanks to Ray Bryant, and to the memory of Colin Leicester,dec.

  6. Mark Francis 07. Sep, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    I don’t think strike action should ever be completely ruled out by any union. One day they could be forced to eat their words.

  7. Richard Fraser 09. Sep, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Why Voice members don’t strike: http://www.voicetheunion.org.uk/action

  8. Richard Fraser 25. Mar, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    Letter in TES: http://www.voicetheunion.org.uk/index.cfm?cid=1601

  9. Richard Fraser 09. Jan, 2017 at 11:21 am #

    “Strength from diversity” http://blog.voicetheunion.org.uk/?p=14542

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