The ASTI is the North Korea of the Irish Trade Union movement 

This is the speech I gave today April 18 2017, at ASTI Convention
Orwell, 1984 seems apt to begin:

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and all the clocks were striking thirteen’
This motion shows all too clearly the embarrassing situation the ASTI has propelled itself into over the last year. The ideas it represents are fine and impossible to argue with, but the method of achieving these ends is as usual deeply flawed.

Let’s recap.

Under the pretence of acting to achieve ‘equal pay for equal work’ we have had a year with no planning, teaching time reduced to accommodate parent teacher meetings, hundreds of teachers have completed a year of s&s for free, lost an increment, have not received advanced restoration of pay since April 1, and left an improved pay scale on the negotiating table. Post 2011 teachers have received nothing from all this, and are voting with their feet, hundreds leaving this association to guarantee CIDs, permanent contracts we are denying them, not to mention exposing the most vulnerable to redundancy in the absence of redeployment.

In order for this motion to mean anything, we would have to see evidence that our leadership want to have something to do with pay agreements, and have abandoned the often repeated mantra that sometime soon the DES will fold and give the ASTI a ‘sectoral deal’.

This motion ignores the simple fact that when you negotiate you need flexibility. It would further .tie the hands of negotiators, the same negotiators who returned from the most recent engagement unable to recommend to members the outcome of those talks. Do we realistically expect them to secure these ends?

I expect there will be those who will condemn me and others for saying these things out loud. They will say we voted for this. And we did. But democracy requires we take rationality for granted (that’s good sense and sound judgment). We voted for an idea, not a plan. Many voted in response to a text message. Our trust in a text message, apparently, relieved us of the need to understand.

History stopped in 1936 – after that, there was only propaganda. Again George Orwell. For the ASTI history seems to have stopped sometime in 2014.

We are fighting a war that for everyone else is long over.

Governed in the absence of elections. SC, VP

Suffering from delusions of our own grandeur, long since passed and forgotten by all but a few.

A Hermit Kingdom, willfully walling itself off from the rest of the world.

There’s only other place like this. 

The ASTI is the North Korea of the Trade Union movement.

Fintan O’Mahony
CEC member 2003-16, 2017-
Standing Committee 2011-16
ASTI member since 1993
Responses/comments welcome as always
twitter: @levdavidovic

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For teachers. For a change.

A year ago, I asked ASTI members to support me in seeking election to the office of Vice-President. I promised then to reinvigorate the ASTI with ideas, action and solidarity between teachers. I wanted to draw strength from our members and drive the ASTI forward. Since the last election, things have become more fraught for the ASTI: the strong action we took on Junior Cycle reform has faded away, we have voted to reject proposals on pay, the union appears divided and unable to act. These headline concerns have prevented us from dealing with the issues of teacher welfare, of multiple pay scales and of improving the structures and reach of our union. Action is required to tackle these crucial problems and move on to a more secure teaching profession.

In recent ballots on critical issues, up to two thirds of our members did not vote. We should regard this as a warning. There is no doubt that the ASTI still holds the attention of its members, days on the picket line and visiting schools proved that when asked to act members respond. I know the members are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false promises and political naivety. But the gap between members and our leaders seems to have grown. How many teachers in schools know the way the ASTI is structured? How many are in touch with the leadership? The ASTI needs visible and dynamic figures to represent the union in public.The confidence that we have always had as a profession shouldn’t be something we celebrate just at Convention every year, but something that guides us in our development as a union every day. Confidence in the ASTI supports everything else: it allows us to progress, to support each other, to give aid to the weakest among us. If teachers are losing that faith as evidence by poor turnouts in ballots, we have to act to change. We know the strength of our numbers. We had the support of the public when we remained strong on Junior Cycle reform. But we should act to regain our unity of purpose. We are the heirs of teachers who survived warnings, threats, and vitriol every bit as difficult as those that challenge us now. Those ASTI members, strong men and women, shaped our union, our education system. It is time we became a generation worthy of taking their union on to the next step, and in that process rebuild the unity and confidence of the ASTI. To restore the faith and confidence of members in the ASTI, I ask members to support me again for Vice President.

If we have faith in our union’s relationship with its members, faith in our unions structures, and faith in the future of the ASTI, nothing needs to change. If we believe work has to be done to be restore that relationship between teachers and the ASTI, that work has to be done to improve our union, or to restore our vision of Irish education, our course is in our hands. Restoring the faith and confidence the ASTI should enjoy is the most important task we face. It is the challenge of this generation of ASTI members. To answer that challenge though action I want To lead the ASTI.

We are at a crossroads. One road ensures self-interest and fragmentation. It promises internal and external conflict, chaos, immobility. Failure. All the work of our predecessors, all the lessons we have learned point us towards the path of common purpose and the restoration of what the ASTI stands for: teachers. I do not promise you that reinvigorating the ASTI will be achieved without great effort, but in doing this work I will tell you the truth, sometimes that will be easy to hear, sometimes it won’t. I do not promise a quick way out of our problems on Junior Cycle or Lansdowne Road, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight, and I will represent the ASTI with fairness and honesty in whatever direction our struggle brings us. Above all, I will act. I will travel to as many schools as possible, to listen to teachers in their staffrooms. They will help us to develop a new agenda for the ASTI, I will listen to them and I will act. We will act together. I make these promises to you and I intend to keep them. 
Our greatest resources are ASTI teachers, ASTI values, and a restored ASTI confidence. 

I will do my best, but I will not do it alone. Let your voice be heard. Let us commit ourselves together to a renewed ASTI. Acting together, we cannot fail. 
For teachers.

For a change.

About me 

Facebook: Elect Fintan

Twitter: @levdavidovic

Why I want to lead the ASTI

I am today announcing my candidacy for the vice-presidency of the ASTI.

I run because I am convinced that the members of this Association should expect more of its leadership: expect more engagement, expect more consultation, and expect more unity.

I run to seek a new way forward for the ASTI, but first to bring the long running sore of ill-thought out reform to an end one way or another, to close the gap in pay between new entrants and their more established colleagues, and to restore all the cuts to education, including teachers’ pay. Most of all, when we are being told that ‘our efforts’ have fixed our financial system, paid for mistakes we didn’t make and elected politicians who ignore us, we are right to demand that schools and public services generally should get the investment they have been denied. I want to lead the ASTI through all this. 
The crisis in our country and in our education system, brought on by the austerity introduced by one government and ‘followed through on’ by another has ignored the expert in the classroom, ignored the teacher’s voice, introduced reform for no reason other than to save money and underinvested in our children’s futures. I want to help reverse all those mistakes.

I run for the Vice Presidency and ultimately the Presidency because I want the ASTI to stand for progress not inaction and for all it’s members above all. For too long the ASTI has been retreading the past into a vision of the future. Education is moving on, embracing technology, research and change. For teacher unions to survive they must exist in the present and be aware of the future, providing information, guidance and support for teachers now, but also navigate a way for teachers to move forward in this changing environment. The greatest gift a teacher can give to a student is to help them believe in themselves. Teacher unions should give the same belief to the professional in the classroom. Many teachers have become discontented, disengaged and disaffected with their unions, it is high time we brought those teachers back under the ASTI’s wings so we can all work towards a truly representative union. 
We should be talking about how to manage change, how to become more politically aware, how to provide research based views on what is proposed in education, how to reconnect with teachers in their schools and even how our unions can find common ground to support each other in their battles. I feel obliged to do all that I can to start this conversation.

I have seen some extraordinary people hold the positions of Vice President and President and know the enormous task it is to serve in those positions. But my service on Standing Committee over the last three years, and before that eight years on CEC have taught me something about both how the ASTI works and critically how the ASTI communicates its message. I believe I have the skills necessary to manage the first and improve the second. I have visited schools and branches that vary profoundly from my own, but in whatever setting, solving the problems teachers encounter with their students, with their colleagues, with management, and with the DES is the job of the ASTI, and it’s a job I’m proud to do.

I have taken a particular interest in listening to new teachers over the last three years, and I have heard their anger at the battles they have to fight to secure employment and equal pay. Meeting their expectations of good representation while impressing on them the necessity for involvement in their union will be a central aim of mine.

It is also time to reach out to other unions and other educational bodies, not with suspicion but with a desire for charting our common ground. It has always been my aim to use the power of our membership wisely, strategically and with the courage of our convictions. If we define our principles and make it known what we stand for it will be a far more comfortable journey for all teachers. But we have to believe in something first. Our path has to more than a series of calculations about what’s possible at any given time, but a set of principles that guide our every decision. At every opportunity we should try to present the ASTI as the voice of reason on pay, conditions, junior cycle and entry into the profession and I believe I have the skills necessary to make this voice heard.

I acknowledge the support and encouragement of many colleagues in this endeavour, and hope that many more can join this campaign. There is nothing personal in this declaration, only a desire to bring to the ASTI a new purpose.

Expect more.

If you want to get involved in this campaign contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or by email.

The A to Z of Convention

Here’s my A-Z of ASTI Convention this year:

A is for allowances, rumoured cuts to which will be a battleground in the weeks and months to come.

B is for Broderick, Brendan, who gave what was widely regarded as the most measured and effective Presidential Address to Convention for many years.

C is for Council, Teaching: the registration fee, the elections, the bank balance, the interference, all made delegates as angry as they got all week.

D is for Department of Education, which still seems more focussed on putting out fires than planning ahead with purpose.

E is for elections: Gerry Breslin is the incoming President and Sally Maguire is the next Vice President. There was only one contested election to Standing Committee (see S).

F is for Federation. The discussed union of the teacher unions. My proposal: it should be called The Federated Union of Teachers and Lecturers or FUTL!

G is for Guidance. The awful decision to move Guidance and Counselling provision within school’s teacher quota means the most marginalised and troubled will again be hit worst.

H is for holidays, a week of which many of us give up to attend Convention. Imagine the uproar if it was held in term-time!

I is for Ireland. There’s a referendum coming on our relationship with Europe, seemingly, and we’re in a financial pickle too. Who knew? (see Q and Y).

J is for jobs, hundreds more ‘taken out of the public service’ as they say, as if that’s a good thing.

K is for King, Pat, General Secretary, who has the unenviable position of leading and following members simultaneously…

L is for lectern, where many go and a few even inspire from.

M is for media, curiously understated this year, memo to members: a row attracts attention

N is for NQTs, those teachers who face poor prospects of pay and conditions, classic divide and conquer from DES

O is for old. How a veteran of 13 Conventions feels when someone on their twenties gets up to speak.

P is for Professional. The cuts to education in the last four years haven’t eroded the professionalism of teachers, but they have eroded their professional salaries and made it more difficult to do a professional job in an underfunded sector.

Q is for Quinn. The Minister who touted an EU Referendum (nothing to do with education) before telling us we didn’t understand the ‘fiscal situation of the country’ (we do).

R is for retired. More and more retired members are attending Convention and though their contributions often remind us of our history and our past successes, some wonder if it’s right that they vote on the conditions of those who are teaching every day.

S is for Standing Committee, ‘the leadership’ we heard about again and again, who are out of touch with members. (Not if they’ve fought and won two elections in six months like me!)

T is for tea and coffee, copious amounts consumed in daylight hours, little or none after the sun goes down.

U is for undervalued, how we all feel when the commentary turns to cuts, cutbacks and investment.

V is for Vita Cortex. The highlight of the week for me was when some of us visited the workers entering their 17th week of their protest. We collected €1400 for them, but the lesson they teach in solidarity is priceless.
Photos of the visit.

W is for Waterford, my own Branch. 12 delegates almost always ever present, and they can sure run an election campaign!

X is for excellent muffins at the Silversprings

Y is for yes. Make sure you support that referendum now!

Z is for zzzz: after three days and nights, catching up on sleep is a must!

Back on the Campaign Trail

Beginning today, I’m about to put myself through 8 separate Ballots in order to be re-elected to the Standing Committee of the ASTI. Those are the hoops, I must jump.
It’s hearteningly democratic, everybody turns up at their branch, fills in a ballot, puts it in an envelope, signs an outer envelope and it’s all transmitted to Head Office ASAP.
Notwithstanding the necessity of doing it this way, it gives me an interesting insight into political activism of a sort we don’t often experience, being the one with his head poking up out of the trench.
Ringing, writing, texting, Facebook, twitter, visiting, you go after votes whatever way you can. And the promises made, by voters (and candidate). It increases your admiration for them, but shows you too how even a little power needs to be carefully won and used.
And, of course, I LOVE elections! Being the candidate is great: the electoral rolls, the ballot papers, the returning officers, the voters who won’t meet your gaze, I could get high on democracy!
So, (here’s the plug) if you’re an ASTI member in New Ross, Enniscorthy, Wexford or Waterford get to the Ballot, exercise your franchise and vote for the right candidate…

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