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 The high regard teachers enjoyed has been replaced by lip-service, and instead of education being an end in itself, now it has to prepare students for ‘the marketplace’.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.