Reads of the Week #60

What links these articles, pictures and podcasts? Every week I look at what I’ve read, and more recently seen and heard, to find a group of recommendations that are tied together somehow. It’s hard to ignore that this selection, one way or another, is about History. I’m moving into new role in the coming week, seconded to the JCT to work on the new Junior Cycle History. New beginnings. No looking back now!

First, on the 90th anniversary of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, this is a classic from the time: Felix Frankfurter’s famous takedown in The Atlantic of a system that refused to work

Dylann Roof walked into Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Church on June 17, 2015, armed with a Glock handgun and 88 bullets and shot dead nine members of a local prayer group. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah went in search of the reasons why. This is a powerful piece of journalism.

ICYMI:
A Door Into The Dark by James Murphy is a challenging piece about how dialogue has been replaced by dominance, how all shade has been removed from public discourse and how this polarisation serves only the few. It applies to education too: it’s easy to be anti- but what are we for?

Two podcasts this week. One of the interesting bonuses of subscribing to the Second Captains podcast is that Ken Early has developed a brilliant series in political exploration. In this episode, building on previous ones on Northern Ireland, feminism and Brexit, Ken talks to Mark Jones here about Nazism, Weimar Germany and Trump. Any podcast that gets into a discussion of the Freikorps in 1920s Germany, is okay with me.

The second podcast is also a reminder of the power of a historical memory. From BBC Radio 4 Soul Music series, this episode is about Strange Fruit, an anthem of the CivIl Rights era in the US, written by a Jewish man in the 1930s.
Finally, back to William Orpen’s Portrait of Gertrude Sanford, which is a beautiful picture, but doesn’t the sitter’s whole story: a daughter of the political class, she inspired a character played by Katharine Hepburn, became a big game hunter, a WWII spy and latterly an environmentalist. I think you can see a bit of all this in her steely gaze.

 

Happy reading!

 

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Reads of the Week #58

This week I was reading about cause and effect: an athlete who cleaned up his life and won gold at the World Championships; the neglect of good government in Trump’s US and how it’s not all just surface stupidity, it runs deep: the long road to being an astronaut and the hassle if you’re of Iranian descent: the legacy of insular leadership in Albania; a heartbreaking podcast and a painting from another place in time. Good week.

Donald McRae is one of the great sportswriters of this generation. His book, A Man’s World is a classic examination of the dangerous tightrope sportspeople walk between a public and private life. This piece on Luvo Manyonga former crystal meth addict and now World Champion Long Jumper is from last December but it is so engrossing and rewarding it more than deserves a recommendation. And the story of the Irishman who helped Manyonga is another reason to read on.

Michael Lewis wrote this piece on the US Department of Energy for Vanity Fair. This is the week of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries, something that seems to have passed the President by. The article is an examination of how the $30 billion agency, which oversees everything from the US nuclear arsenal to the electrical grid is being run into the ground by proposed budget cuts, mismanagement and just plain ignorance. It reminds us that Trump is not a joke, that his amateurism is deadly dangerous.

Robin Wright in the New Yorker details the career of  Jasmin Moghbeli, whose Iranian parents fled to Germany after the Revolution in 1979, where she was born. They subsequently moved on to the US and now she’s an Astronaut. The bit inbetween is very interesting.

Dave Hazzan, writing for Roads and Kingdoms, has found one of oddities of History, the bunkers, built in the 1970s and 80s that litter Albania. This essay on what they are used for, and what they mean is fascinating.

Podcast of the week in an episode of Human/Ordinary I first heard through a rebroadcast from the Strangers Podcast. I don’t want to spoil it but it has the power to break your heart and heal you all in one listen.

And picture of the week is a painting by William Orpen that I used in school a few years back. It’s of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn, who has an interesting story of her own, which places her all the way to the right of the canvas. It makes her the object of our gaze, but peripheral, and the pensive look on her face say only loneliness to me. This is a review of the painting from Vanity Fair in 1915.

Reads of the Week #53

This week, the week the State Exams finished for 2017, also marked the finishing of my school work. I manage the Book Rental Scheme in our school and that means waiting until late June to stock take and look at the order for next year. It’s an opportunity for listening to radio while I work and for finding reading material that distract me from textbooks. 
Earlier in the week I read a piece by Michael O’Loughlin to mark Bloomsday in the Irish Times on James Joyce as a European. I liked this line in particular ‘There are few other nations whose foundation myth is based on the notion that we’re not actually from around here.’



Last week Fintan O’Toole won the Orwell Prize for his coverage of Brexit and in this article for the New York Times, he deftly puts British turmoil in an Irish context: perhaps some of us in Ireland can be allowed a moment of schadenfreude as we look across the sea and ask… the question the English so often asked about us: Are the English fit for self-government?



For Fathers Day, Esquire published this moving piece by Tyler Coates on his father’s voice which is moving and real: The last remaining evidence of my father’s voice, the final thing that roots him and his existence in my brain, will eventually cease to exist–just like VHS tapes, and the accent he spoke with, and my memories of him, too.



To my friends’ baby girl: I hope you grow up to be Wonder Woman by Heidi Stevens is essential reading for anyone with a daughter. [You were born] the same week a female superhero (finally!) started kicking butt at the box office… a signal of our fondest hope for you: that you grow up knowing you can choose your own path and fight your own battles and change the world.



Here, Pasi Sahlberg reckons we should be concentrating on ‘small data’ to improve education, ‘small data’ emerges from the notion that in a world that is increasingly governed by binary digits and cold statistics, we need information that helps us to understand better those aspects of teaching and learning that are invisible or not easily measurable. 



Organising Teaching: Developing the Power of the Profession from Howard Stevenson and Nina Bascia has seven challenges for teacher unions to reorganise and it is essential reading for teacher trade unionists. 

Podcast of the week is the conversation between Tom Sleigh and Paul Muldoon about Seamus Heaney’s In the Attic and Tom Sleigh’s own The Fox On the New Yorker Poetry Podcast, which, mainly due to Paul Muldoon’s knowledge and geniality is a always a treat. 

And finally, this weeks picture of the week is of  Ballinaboy, County Galway, Ireland, 1965 by Edwin Smith which I found on twitter from Anne Mortier. Beautiful landscape, ominous skies, homestead in between, the perfect vision of Ireland. 

Reads of the Week #52

Reads of the week is back! I took fifteen months or so off mainly to write about the ASTI and education in general but there is time now to start curating and recommending things you may have missed over the last week. (Actually I’ve cheated this week and gone back two weeks). 
First there’s local (for me) history of boys who chose to fight in World War One rather than stay in Clonmel Borstal, the only such Irish institution outside Dublin. Seventy of the more than fourhundred who went to war died. Great work by Conor Reidy.  

Next is some more local-ish history.  Colm Wallace has completed a study of murdered Free State Gardaí from 1922 to 1949 and this is the story of the first, killed in Mullinahone. 

My Family’s Slave is a  piece by Alex Tizon, who, sadly, died in recent months. It’s about a woman who lived with with his family from before he was born and long after she needed to. And was never properly paid. It hurts to read but his journey to do Lola justice in the end is  powerful. 

From prose to fiction, but not too far a journey: to Alexie Sherman‘s Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest, a short story about a motel cleaner that gets to you by describing a life of seemingly banality in hugely human detail.

Podcast of the week is on Manzanar the Workd War 2 camp for Japanese-Americans, now designated a National Historical Site. Interesting discussion on whether the camp was an internment or concentration camp. I listen to a lot of podcasts/radio (50 hours this week is a record [yes I keep track!]) this one stayed got to me. The quiet dignity mixed with activism and the pursuit of justice are moving. 99 percent invisible have dozens of podcasts like this 

Not a great title but the idea that we raise our girls to fight stereotypes and pursue their dreams, but don’t do the same for our boys is worth considering. 

This is the best video essay on film I’ve seen in a while The Legacy of Paranoid Thrillers.  

Fintan O’Toole won the Orwell Prize for his writing on Brexit Britain: The End of a Fantasy for the New York Review of Books is a good place to start reading his work.  (@fotoole for @nybooks)

This is a very good accounting of where the ASTI was, is and might be heading by Katherine Donnelly. 

One more history story to finish about how Mike McTigue took on ‘the Battling Siki‘ during the Civil Wat to become a world Champion. 

The picture with this post is Blue Horses (1911) by Franz Marc, a German artist who was killed in World War One. We went to an exhibition of his work in Madrid in 2008 with Child One and brought home a stuffed red horse we christened Frank. Child Three sleeps with it now. 

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

One step forward, two steps back: The future of the ASTI

future-or-pastThe future, the bright and glorious future we are promised is as uncertain as it has ever been. We are in a process of stripping away all the valuable work we have done on education. Remember this association is a professional representative body as well as a trade union. Time for parrhesia. (In Plato’s Apology Socrates says: the cause of my unpopularity was my parrhesia, my fearless speech, my frank speech, my plain speech, my unintimidated speech.)

It is irresponsible for anyone to hide their view of what has gone wrong and what will happen next because they wanted to be popular. My analysis is motivated by a desire to make a positive contribution to the ASTI, though I expect I’ll be chastised for not pulling in the same direction as the crowd, for saying things that the people you get your information from do not want to hear.  The ASTI cheerleaders now have put on the agenda motivations that have been kept in abeyance for a decade. Back then we were embroiled in a strategy of having no allies and no direction. It took too long time to restore the reputation of the ASTI, if it was ever restored.

I know that by writing this, I will be accused of having other motives. Of late, it has become verboten to express any opinion contrary to the story ASTI members have been told.  In the past, even over the last few weeks, I have been accused of seeking to raise my profile in the ASTI, of trying get revenge for my defeat in internal elections, of using my knowledge of the history, structures and my service to the ASTI as weaponry to down the union, of being an apologist for the government. It is clear that, rather than accepting that there may be people who disagree with decisions made by the ASTI, some reach instead for other motives. (The irony of the way that some of the current leadership has tried to rewrite that same history and spent the last number of years undermining the work done by the ASTI should not be lost on us comrades.) The very fact that I write a blog, which has increasingly become dominated by criticism of this small group of members, some of whom we might expect should know better, has been criticised at executive level of the union. The real reason we (because I am not alone in this view, I’m just the one who ends up writing this stuff down) have become the target is as a a way of avoiding any discussion of ‘inconvenient truths’. But whatever our views, we are expected to button our lips and let the great and good get on with it.

 

lone-tree-landscape-isolation-black-and-white-photography-edward-princeThe ASTI has no friends. Instead there is a vague ‘them’ which opposes us include every education body in the country: the NCCA, Teaching Council, School Principals, education journalists, parents’ bodies, other teacher unions and of course the Department of Education itself. This ‘them’ is plotting against us and focussed on us, and act with calculated spite. In this version of the education debate, the ASTI stands alone against this ‘evil’, that single-handed against an ‘unscrupulous enemy’. It sounds ludicrous because it is ludicrous. Each of the bodies mentioned differ from the ASTI in that they don’t see the ASTI as being the centre of the universe while the ASTI’s current leadership view of itself is vainglorious and self-absorbed. And as a result the ASTI is increasingly less relevant.

In fighting our shapeshifting, ubiquitous enemies we are to be a permanent army of discontent, preparing ourselves for perpetual war which we win without endangering our most vulnerable members. It is to be contemptuous of trade unionism to favour no negotiation, no resolutions, no consequences, and promising whatever you like. We would do well to remember that a perpetually fighting, isolated and destitute union is not the union handed to us by our betters.

What is wrong with engaging with these outside bodies? If the ASTI was inclined to be a cat among those pigeons it could make alliances, put common ground under us, rather than trade in paranoia. The relationship between the ASTI and the media, for example, is fraught: on the one hand we are told they are the devil, that they are unsupportive and in bed with the government, while at the same time giving journalists every opportunity to write about the crazy things we do without giving context to these crazy things. It becomes a truism that the ASTI is resistant to change.

Reflecting on the most recent campaign, if we can call it that, we would have to ask what the media strategy was? The media, the public at large will never be the friend of a union at war by itself. When your spokespeople are overexposed or missing in action you haven’t a chance of shaping the story. Most teachers don’t spend their time discussing the ASTI, most citizens of this Republic don’t care about the politics of trade unions. They might see a headline on facebook, but more likely catch a bit of the nine o’clock news or Morning Ireland in the car. Social media isn’t the beginning or the end of media engagement, but should reinforce the message. Appearing on tv and radio at every possible opportunity requires having a disciplined message underpinning a coherent objective. None of this was in evidence during the campaign.

3b0891d87e35dffec9f7ad17347ce2e6There were always three ASTI camps: one wanted to chance everything to achieve our desired outcomes, one wanted to do nothing, and one wanted to act in a calculated way. It has become clear that the first two are merging into one, making common cause against change (on Junior Cycle for example), they have and will block any advance towards a single pay scale, they make promises they have no intention of honouring. When the tide goes out, these two groups will blame their failures on others.

In the narrative of permanent attack, ideas and rigorous discussion have disappeared. So that teachers can be led in whatever direction the leadership dictate, it is necessary to withhold information, to pretend the ASTI has been weak for a decade. It becomes the truth that being in the trade union movement is worse than being isolated and fighting alone against the ‘bad guys’ mentioned above. The saddest effect of the recent campaign is that teachers whose new engagement might otherwise have been a bonus, has instead been built on a belief that shouting loudest is preferable to negotiating. Those teachers are bound to be become disillusioned with the cheques the leadership write go uncashed, weakening the ASTI when the purported aim was to strengthen it. The ASTI’s place should be in the trade union family, putting the case, built on logic, that teachers have things of value to say.

When people feel threatened they don’t think clearly. In recent times the greatest threats come from within, warning that if you don’t support the strategy you are against us, even when you know the strategy is flawed. The shameful truth is that we listen to the hostile, narcissistic narrative of them versus us and many of us have started to believe it. But, just as teachers can’t do their job without support, teacher unions simply cannot take to the field alone, if we intend to enter the field at all. Without friends, other teacher unions especially, we are diminished.

WB Yeats, when writing about the Irish Free State said a nation reaching intellectual maturity, he said pride replaced vanity, and the proud do not disguise their faults. The ASTI is not there yet, the self-confidence to examine our mistakes is not a feature of the union, it appears to be too much work to learn from errors (the irony of this for people who deal with teenagers all day should not be lost).

So there is a crisis which has not been acknowledged by our leadership. With the majority of members disengaged but still having a residual trust in their leadership, a trust routinely abused by Standing Committee and CEC. The absence of professional negotiators, magnified by their distrust of Head Office officials, has eroded the ASTI’s standing among trade unions. The further acceptance and promulgation of simplistic answers to the complex issues of pay and conditions go unchallenged now. Going back to Yeats and development of self respect: the more members know of the reality of our union’s actions, the more they will realise we lack that self respect.

 

plan-bSo this isn’t just a conflict between the ASTI and government departments, it is also a struggle for the ASTI itself. Only when we take back control of the ASTI will it start to do what it should be doing for all of us. We will have to have a clear programme for all teachers to be more involved in their union. We will have to organise, prepare, things that good teachers do. Unions should do so much more than, as Tony Benn put it, ‘actively favour the conservative policy of acquisitiveness’, this applies to what is wrong with the ASTI, and when he said they ‘have hardly made any serious effort to explain their work to those who are not union members, even to the wives and families of those who are’, he could have been describing the view of the ASTI from the outside. There are structural issues with the union (I dealt with those here) but there is also the problem of the ideas we stand for being unclear, even to members. These ideas should be capable of seeing off the wreckers. But we should not delay in refocusing on education and restructuring the ASTI. We should aid and encourage each other, in every school and branch to lead the ASTI from the bottom up, rather than the top down, to do away with uncertainty and humming and hawing. Anyone who doubts that this is possible should be disabused of their concerns. These are the days of dispute for dispute sake, of backward conservatism and the interests of our most vulnerable comrades are dispensable. We must be firm and decisive when the pieces are to be picked up. We must know what we want and make it clear to our opponents. And we must hurry.

This especially is the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, directly and courageously. We should not be afraid of facing the perilous state of our union now. This union will only endure, recover and thrive if we banish the negative narrative of teacher union weakness. A capable and bold leadership is not in evidence now and supporting the direction we are taking is is plainly difficult for many teachers. The difficulties facing teachers are too numerous to mention (read this post of mine on alienation in the profession), but we should be facing them together. What does getting rid (momentarily) of Croke Park hours, for example, do for new entrants? What does removing access to CIDs do for non-permanent teachers? What does closing off redeployment do? Expectations of what can be achieved are being blown out of all proportion, and lead to inevitable defeat and meaningless posturing. In an atmosphere where our sister unions have decided to put their members first and negotiate on their behalf, our leadership has chosen to sail the ship so close to the rocks as to risk losing everything. Of course, when you can blame the rocks for wrecking your ship, you can sail where you like. The complaint that we have been mistreated as if we never knew what the official side were going to do is nonsense. The official response didn’t emerge from nowhere like some plague of frogs. It would appear that the truth, that it was known all along what would happen if the ASTI repudiated a pay agreement, is still hard for some to admit.

failing-report-cardIt is hard not to think of the ASTI when rereading Gramsci: ‘a crisis in and of itself will not change the position of your opposition, it makes you weaker, or at best (gives) the appearance of weakness’. That is why the campaign of strike action on Junior Cycle was so successful: it was calm, studied, firm resistance, built on the voice of teachers (and Teachers’ Voice). It wasn’t a decision made in crisis and it had the backing of teachers and the public throughout in its execution. What has replaced this guile and ability to get things done? Stubbornness, incompetence, unscrupulous abdication of responsibility and clinging to outworn ideas are born out of fear of change and the desire to preserve ego.

These are dark days, comrades, but it will be worth the darkness if it teaches us our union survives when we are not, as FDR put it ‘ministered unto but minister to ourselves’. Talking about it is not enough. In recreating a  functioning union, we have to do two things: we have to abandon gambling when we have no cards and we have to provide sound, evidence based strategy that can be explained to the public and be clear to teachers.

The ASTI faces an existential crisis. There will be those who prefer to just to say: all the problems that exist are the fault of ‘them’. They also seem to believe making agreements is an act of treason. It is treason though to seek agreements to make teachers working lives worse. It is trade unionism to seek incremental improvements to works pay and conditions.

If the ASTI goes down the road some are proposing, will you just comfort yourself by blaming it on the newspapers and the Minister for Education? Will that get you through the pain of pay disparity and creeping managerialism? These might be uncomfortable questions but the situation is perilous and unless satisfactory answers are offered, we enable the very people who want to protest until death.

 

istock_000015626570smallbowlingRepeatedly when I have asked what we could do to reach the disaffected, uninvolved member, I heard responses that dismissed them as ‘people who use the union as an insurance policy’, or that ‘I never hear from disaffected members’. I have always been convinced that unless we embark on a process which at least turns those members into ASTI-aware teachers, and at best mobilises them in a genuine campaign of action, the ASTI will wither away in failure. I am worried that the lack of desire for problem-solving might be because of the fear of failure on our side. When fear is the leadership’s only bond with the members, paper and map authority is all that exists, like the Ottoman Empire of old. The difference is the authoritarians of the 19th and 20th centuries were generally disciplined and had grandiose plans. The plan in this instance is underdeveloped and opaque, built on a fragile impulse to lash out at anything that threatens a fragile sense of self-esteem. In between those disinterested  and disaffected teachers and those claiming to lead there are the vast bulk of us who don’t care, but enable the leadership. This has caused longterm damage to the union and to teachers themselves. This has allowed an ugliness to surface, online and in person among ASTI members, tainting the union and the many good people who believe in it. We are going to have to get off the fence.

When you leaders are being attacked, then underperforming, then becoming defensive, intolerance towards any criticism results. I’ve spent years trying to present the ASTI positively to teachers and the public, but now I’m a Tory, this blog is an echo chamber (duh!), a suck up to the media, etc etc.

To criticise the leadership is to facilitate the media-government conspiracy that assumes the ASTI is the centre of the national narrative. But those attacks differ from what I’m doing in that they want the ASTI to fail, or at least neutral, I want the exact opposite, I am anything but neutral: I want the ASTI to succeed or the ASTI will crash and burn and an essential support for teachers in distress will be discredited in the eyes of those who most need it.

The residual loyalty ASTI members seem to feel for their leaders is ebbing away. This union is not inclusive, it is not optimistic. When even different views from inside the tent can’t be tolerated, this isn’t likely to change.

A clear manifesto, five or ten priorities would refocus the ASTI as a professional body and as a trade union. Starting a process of finding out what teachers in schools want, might be instructive and might mobilise the activists to reach those who are disengaged. All the failures to communicate clear strategy, failures to inform, and having something we are for, not just things were are against. Leadership from the members.

 

free-thinker-copyThe intellectualism and interest in education that should drive the ASTI needs to be fostered. In fact the very opposite has become the norm: dispensing with research, providing anti-intellectual arguments for decisions, the promotion of reactionary tactics, the failure to get ahead of the opposition, to take decisions when time is right.

Gramsci again: ‘there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders… But the process of creating intellectuals is long and difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersal and regrouping, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried.’

Intellectualism shouldn’t be a dirty word, any organisation that wants to survive has to create its own intellectuals to develop its own identity. They should be fostered, trained and supported by their union, teachers are ideal for this, and the ASTI should be encouraging them in trade union training, rather than accepting those school by political parties outside the trade union movement.

We have to put our own house in order and serve teachers first. We should dedicate the ASTI to a policy of self respect first, from that follows respect for other education bodies, they then will respect their obligations and the agreements we have made. (When we enter the arena, without sacrificing our morals and ideals, we level the playing field)

None of that can happen until there is a rebalancing of the authority of the executive branches of the union and the membership. This will be the hardest task. In the event that members fail to take back control of their union and this crisis continues, beyond the current battle, as it did in the last decade, the ASTI will become a spent force.

Having 18,000 members is a powerful position, holding on to them in the current climate might proved tricky, but I’m more interested in mobilising them over the long term. There are so many things we can’t tackle because of the refusal to resolve the issues put before us in the most recent ballot.

So. Where is the clear vision? What are we in favour of, in simple language what do we want?

 

Two stories to finish.

I remember some years ago meeting the father in law of a friend of mine who asked what I did for a living, when I told him I was a teacher, he responded ‘you aren’t one of those ASTI loopers are you’. I laughed it off, but I didn’t forget it. I don’t like being that guy at a social gathering. I like being a teacher. I’m proud of being a teacher.

When I mentioned to a friend my intention of writing another blogpost about the ASTI, he texted back ‘why bother?’ We teachers are used to managerialism or teaching to the test wearing us down, but when we are being worn down by the professional body to which we should be drawn for comfort and support, a change has to come.

 

This is the final part of a three part analysis of the ASTI.

Part one is here, part two is here

 

Fintan O’Mahony

CEC member 2003-16

Standing Committee 2011-16

ASTI member since 1993

Responses/comments welcome as always

twitter: @levdavidovic

20 Reasons to vote Yes this time (January 2017 Ballot)

  1. This is the final offer. Would these negotiators get anything extra when the offer on the table is exactly what was on offer before the negotiations began? The Lansdowne Road train is about to leave the station with every other union on board. Anything they get, you cannot have until you accept this offer.
  2. The line is being spun by some that the ASTI can ‘join the Lansdowne Road Agreement at any time’. What has this been about then? Why campaign, threaten and ultimately close schools when the plan is to join LRA at some future date anyway?
  3. Running several campaigns at once has been a disaster. Pay equality has, as predicted, disappeared behind the silliness of no-impact action like banning Croke Park hours and a frankly ludicrous plan to stop doing supervision and substitution.
  4. Anyone who opted to do s&s or who was co-opted into doing it, has not been paid to do it since the start of the school year. A pensionable payment for s&s FOR EVERY TEACHER has been passed up. The only way to be paid for s&s completed, or to come, is to be in a pay agreement; asserting, as some do, that we can claim payment for them ‘at a later date’ will entail doing the work for free in the meantime.
  5. Being outside a pay agreement is a nightmare for anyone who is in an over quota school and expecting to be redeployed, anyone expecting a CID next September, anyone expecting a promotion, anyone expecting to retire, and for anyone else who could do with the increment that will disappear. For all these people you need to vote yes.
  6. The campaign to halt Junior Cycle Reform was over in the summer of 2015, but our then leadership couldn’t take the win they had, to their credit, pulled off in cooperation with the TUI against all the predictions. Move on.
  7. It is almost too late for another minority group among our number: English teachers, another example of this union not standing up for its most vulnerable members. English teachers should get training, their students should be marked for all the work they produce, and teachers should be able to shape their practice themselves, like professionals. The ASTI has denied them all this. The best way to change the Junior Cycle now is to engage with it.
  8. If you want to be on strike again in the second half of the school year, knowing how little it achieved before Christmas, then by all means vote no, but be prepared to put our most vulnerable members at risk see above.
  9. If you think a vote to reject this offer will mean never doing Croke Park hours remember this: it this isn’t industrial action, it is just rescheduling parent teacher meetings and staff meetings. The offer includes an increase from 5 to 10 hours of that time to be completed at the teacher’s discretion. Deduct that time from the total and take out parent teacher meetings we are left with two staff days and three one hour staff meetings to complete in a year. That’s what you’re voting to avoid with a no.
  10. So, Croke Park hours are not going away, everyone in the public service is required to complete them, including the other two teacher trade unions. The only way to get rid of them, if that’s the aim, is to negotiate our way out of it, to do that we have to be in a pay agreement.
  11. Saying we have leverage in continuing to resist Junior Cycle reform and Croke Park hours begs the question: why were these issues placed on the table in the negotiation at all? The reality is, and always has been that Pay Equality has never been the priority for the ASTI. The only way to solve the issue to make common cause with our sister teacher unions who have already moved on to the next stage: pushing for the PME allowance and securing increases at low cost through negotiation for their members.
  12. To say that our action caused the changes to newer pay scales that was negotiated by the other unions in insulting to them and frankly to our intelligence. If you really believe an offer that was made and accepted in July was only on the table because we were balloting on strike action in September, when the outcome of the ballot wasn’t even known, there is nothing for it but to lament the path we took: instead of accepting an offer to negotiate, our leadership declined, only to put the same offer to us months later.
  13. To post-2011 teachers: your willingness to fight for equality has shown all of us up. Your  situation has not been taken seriously enough. One of the few positives of this campaign has been your story getting through to the public. Nonetheless, you have been over-promised: you were told it was equality or nothing, but unions don’t work like that. You need to stay involved to keep the pressure on, but there is no pay equality outside and fighting alone.
  14. Don’t believe the hype about the Garda deal ‘outside the trade union family’. If being on the outside is so great, why are the Garda representative bodies so anxious to come into the family? And when someone says the Guards got a great deal, we can get a great deal, remember two things: they have professional negotiators and they didn’t have to take a  single strike day.
  15. The negotiations have been marked by ineptitude. Do you believe that those who came back with nothing more than was on offer before we closed schools will go back and get some undefined extra concession? The unprofessional and ill-disciplined way this whole campaign has been run tell us that whatever cards we held going into the talks are gone.
  16. Fempi, the root of all evil, is only being used against the ASTI because we asked for it. When we voted to withdraw from Croke Park time, the government did what they told us they would do: they withdrew the good stuff about pay agreements: redeployment, the Ward Report covering CIDs, payment for S&S and so on. They told us they would do this in the autumn of 2015 and our leadership chose to ignore the warning. Some people say we have been bullied, it isn’t bullying if you asked for it, it’s masochism.
  17. It isn’t the fault of the newspapers, or the other unions, or any outside body that we find ourselves in this situation, it is our own fault. We listened when they promised all our problems would be solved, that the government would cave, or maybe even fall when we stood up to them, that we could get a separate ‘sectoral deal’ for a single union, even though we had no support, no public backing, all to make the ASTI great again.
  18. The only way to restore the good name of the ASTI is to accept this offer, lick our wounds and within our union, OUR union, call out those responsible for this debacle and insist they take responsibility for the mess. If you vote no, you are handing the responsibility for solving all these problems to people who have singularly failed to get any of what they told you they would get you. Voting no will send the ASTI into a spiral of decline that will mirror and multiply the decline we suffered a decade and a half ago.
  19. There was another way: we could have campaign vigorously for acceptance of the final offer on Junior Cycle Reform (some people did), taking it off the table, we could have engaged alongside our sister unions and achieved gains for teachers who qualified since 2012, we could have avoided the complication of strike and closing schools on succeeding days, we could have moved on, as has the rest of the trade union family to renegotiating LRA to the advantage of all teachers. But not doing Croke Park hours and doing s&s for free were far more important than any of that.
  20. If you want your action to be limited to lunchtime protests and the like to in effect wag your finger at the problem rather than actually do something about it, then vote no, but if our leadership had the courage of their recommendation to vote no, wouldn’t you expect them to also have the courage to close schools and hit exams? Wasn’t this a do or die issue in the autumn? The news that work-to-rule action is the limit of their confidence and planning if the offer is declined says it all: this is over.

 

We might have expected that the trust thus far shown by ASTI members in their leadership might have been reciprocated with an honest acknowledgement of the seriousness of the issue in a recommendation that allows members to chose an exit from this debacle. Furthermore, in most organisations when you dig a hole this deep, you accept responsibility and at least apologise, but this isn’t a functioning organisation. Instead we have the persistent appeasement of a tiny band of extremists who tried to avoid a ballot of members at all and now want to drive our union into the dust.

 

This is over. It is time to move on. Vote Yes. 


Fintan O’Mahony


CEC member 2003-16


Standing Committee 2011-16


ASTI member since 1993


Responses/comments welcome as always


twitter: @levdavidovic
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