Thinking about Teachers and Trade Unions

I’m running for election in my union the ASTI. The goal is a seat on Standing Committee which runs the union when Executive and Convention are not in session. Organising posters and letters, making phone calls, sending texts and emails is all great fun, but aside from getting the vote out, I think about where our union, and trade unions in general are going.
The basic functions of ensuring better pay and conditions for members are still what drive unions on but some things have changed. I’ve been reading ‘Unlikely Radicals: Irish Post Primary Teachers and the ASTI, 1909-2009’ by John Cunningham and it strikes me (pardon the pun) that the issues we face are those always faced by teachers with one difference. The high regard teachers enjoyed has been replaced by lip-service, and instead of education being an end in itself, now it has to prepare students for ‘the marketplace’. When the ASTI was founded in 1909 teachers were worried that the education system was designed to churn out a type of student that would undermine their Irishness, now we worry that decisions are being taken, on the Junior Certificate, on class size, on school funding generally, that will undermine their chance of receiving a rounded education. An education will develop where schools are factories and students are units, teachers face measures of productivity and exams shape ‘the product’ into consumers fit for business.
Sure, we have huge issues in the trade union movement, the most pressing in a disengagement between those who attend union meetings and those who don’t. We have no hope of influencing the future of our profession while that continues. But in the end they come for your union too, and unless we can inspire and encourage members to become more involved, they’ll take it very easily.


4 thoughts on “Thinking about Teachers and Trade Unions

  1. One of the biggest failings of the unions over the past few years is their blatant ignorance of the plight of the newly qualified teacher – whose pay and conditions have been slashed and where they now must work in a two tier education system. Instead the unions seem to be focused on the proposed introduction of continuous assessment procedures being drafted by the NCCA and the SEC – measures which will greatly increase the quality of educational assessment in this country and which will help move away from the factory model you specified above. Any wonder why young teachers are not drawn to unions?

    1. Only just saw post Humphrey, completely agree re NQTs, too little attention paid to next generation over last three years, lip service mainly. However I wonder how the commodification of assessment, something our colleagues in the US, Canada and England are stuck with, is better than what we have. I read this lately, it impressed me because I think it’s where we are heading.

  2. Hi I am taking Nigels challenge and got a random link to your blog! Fintan – how active are younger teachers in Union issues? I remember in the mid-1980’s young teachers taking nothing sitting down with Gemma Husseys reforms back then.

    Many now seem less and less inclined to engage – even in the face of “reforms” – that are just an excuse for expedient cost-savings………..

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