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

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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)

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  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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What no one says about the way the ASTI is structured

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Why is the general membership of the ASTI is so disconnected from the structures that make decisions for them? Why are members so willing to hand the running of the union over to the few (often unelected and most definitely unknown) members who are ‘active’? At my estimation there are about 800 such active members in an organisation of 17,000, less than five percent.  Among them those of us over forty are far more well represented than those under forty and newly entering the profession. This is unhealthy at best.

The relationship between the teacher in the classroom and the ASTI is broken and those teachers are ill-served by leaders who seem to put crisis before education, using the ASTI as a vehicle to  promote the political views of the few over the good of the whole teaching profession. When the aim is to perpetuate crisis over a long period, as is evident in recent weeks, incurable structural problems start to emerge, but go unaddressed. The crisis consumes everything, so any attempt to fix ‘peripheral’  issues is ignored. The time is long overdue to modernise and improve the structures of the ASTI and to improve the quality and depth of information members receive about their union.
The ASTI has no collected, or published, set of principles, so it’s easy to assert what the Association stands for without really knowing. (A guide could be found in Rule 5 of the ASTI Constitution and in my next post in this threepart series, part one is here.) The levers of decisionmaking need to be in the possession of those in whose interests the union acts. That is not the case in the ASTI. From schools to Branches, from Branches to CEC (Central Executive Committee), between CEC and SC, and between SC and the Officers of the union, communication is broken, has broken or will break down in the near future. We can see this very clearly in the claim recently that huge majorities have supported action taken by SC, when the type of action was only decided after the ballot was held and voters, in the view of many, made their decisions without a full explanation of their consequences.

The task of being School Steward should be rewarded by waiving their subscriptions, but it will only evolve into a functioning position when information flows freely between Head Office and schools. Facilitating collaboration between Stewards to solve common problems could be achieved if they were encouraged to attend training after their terms end to give feedback on what they experienced. Each school should be visited at least every three years by officials given the specific job of organising in schools, so that if there’s war they get the feeling of the footsoldiers, and if there’s peace they can share the credit. If you don’t talk to members you can easily pretend you know what they think, as de Valera said: ‘if I wish to know what the Irish want, I look into my own heart’, same goes for many making decisions in the ASTI.
Free membership should be extended to everyone who has qualified since 2011 and earns an unequal salary through changes to their pay scales. They aren’t joining in large numbers now and this would both give them a voice and focus the minds of everyone to move to full equality fast. It makes sense to give anyone who works in a temporary position membership for a nominal fee. Though giving an important voice to people who have given huge service to the ASTI over the years, retired membership should no longer be free, retired teachers do not have the same stake in the profession as those who are in still teaching in classrooms.

Members do not attend Branch meetings in numbers, we all lament this but nobody does anything about it. If Head Office had information on when meetings were being held, members in that Branch could be alerted by text, email or social media. To revive the Branches it will be necessary to open up what they do to include meetings beyond ordinary business: external speakers, specific meetings for new entrants or subject groups. It should be a requirement that regional SC Representatives and CEC members attend all Branch meetings to answer for and defend the actions taken on behalf of ASTI members. Ultimately the ASTI should be following the best practice of some of our sister unions abroad and providing CPD for teachers. I’ll go into that in more detail in a later post.

The ASTI has fifteen committees varying in size from CEC at 180 to smaller ad hoc five member bodies. The committee structure would be far more effective if it was used as a way to bring new activists into the ASTI. It isn’t. Members shouldn’t be allowed to serve on more than one committee at a time and six continuous years should the limit for membership. With an issue like pay equality, the input of those committees should be sought when deciding core policy.

CEC suffers from it’s size and attendances have fallen dramatically of late. Often meetings start late, run on too long with repetitive speeches and questions asked in the form of statements. Not enough information is given to CEC members in advance of their meetings, my view of this is very clear: insufficient information means emotional decisions. When you know this it becomes easier to understand why CEC makes curious decisions (recently it decided not to give members full information on the implications of a ballot on Croke Park Hours). On many occasions the tension and distrust between CEC and SC is seen by the unwillingness of SC members to stand over their decisions or opinions at CEC. Then again, CEC is also frequently undermined by some of it’s own members who regard SC and the officers, no matter who they are, as the enemy.


Standing Committee should confine itself to strategizing and planning forward. SC meetings often become bogged down before they start, disputes over minutes and correspondence often take up a large part of the monthly meetings. It would help if documents circulated in advance were taken as read and not discussed in detail. The Arrangements and Procedures for Standing Committee (a document plainly unfamiliar to some member of SC itself as the provisions are regularly ignored) makes it clear that individual member or school issues shouldn’t be raised, but they often are, wasting time on Industrial Relations issues better dealt with by IR staff. SC could be a huge source of ideas on education and industrial relations, but the falling interest in even running for election to the committee is not a good sign and only about half a dozen of members went through elections to get there.

The Presidency should last for two years. It should never been seen as a reward for service to the ASTI, and the process of selection (which centres on a Vice-Presidential race one year before) should be capable of expansion to a hustings including addressing members directly at meetings in advance of a choice being made.

The ASTI Annual Convention should be completely reorganised. It has become tired, repetitive and sterile. Little that takes place at Convention affects the work of teachers in classrooms. Few topical issues can be discussed because the gap between the submission of Convention motions in November and the Convention itself at Easter can be up to four months. Motions are almost never contentious. Deeper discussion on topics out of which motions could be proposed would be far better. As Convention goes on the numbers in attendance falls, last year there were only 50% of the opening day attendance present at the end. Keeping members involved and interested until the third day could be done by holding all elections on the final day of Convention instead of towards the beginning.


The appointment of a General Secretary is the most important task the executive undertakes. They, or their proxies, should be informed in their decision by expert legal and industrial relations opinion and recruitment experts should be consulted at every stage of the process.

As the staff of Head Office are the employees of the ASTI, they should be treated as any teacher would expect to be treated by their manager, employer or principal, anything less would be hypocritical.


Information is what teachers deal in, there should be no objection to providing members of the ASTI with as much information as they need about how the association works and the implications of the decisions we all make. If the members of the ASTI are to take control of the union again, they need to make it clear that they want to contribute to the direction the ASTI should move in. If they want to maintain the current direction, that’s fine, but I’d bet that with a deeper knowledge of the structures of the ASTI they will choose common sense and reform of those structures. If an opportunity is not taken, the balance will shift back to the old ruling class, which will reestablish its dominance.


The day will come when a crisis within the leadership causes them to split, fracture and turn against themselves. The crisis may be closer than we think.

 

Fintan O’Mahony

CEC member 2003-16

Standing Committee 2011-16

ASTI member since 1993

Responses/comments welcome as always

twitter: @levdavidovic

Pay equality: reaching for the holy grail

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Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Sun Tzu

The pay restoration agreement reached today between the INTO and TUI on one side and the DES and DPER is a major step towards returning to pay equality. The agreement does what many of us though would take years to achieve: it eliminates a pay scale introduced in 2012 for teachers who have been denied both their rightful pay and the allowances many of us enjoy as a right. The agreement does not achieve pay parity for all and both unions acknowledge this. But it eliminates the discrimination against anyone who has or will join the profession after 2012.

The difficulty for some will come from the belief that all the restoration could be achieved in one fell swoop. This view is unrealistic and teachers should be wary of those that offer simplistic solutions to complex problems: anyone who tells you they can achieve more than this by grandstanding and rejecting negotiation is just plain delusional.

The worst part of the agreement for me is that it doesn’t apply to every teacher.When I said above that it eliminates the discrimination against all post-2012, it doesn’t: ASTI members in that position will not be included. This after the leadership of the union having been offered a place at the negotiating table without prejudice, and after having sight of the agreement before it was announced. It saddens me to say that my union is doing a disservice to those teachers who could do with this pay increase and that the ASTI will predictably stand against this agreement in favour of continuing to ballot for strike action in the vain hope of getting more than the other two unions while remaining outside of a pay agreement.

This may not have been everything we wanted, but it is huge progress and, regrettably, today has been another dark day for the ASTI. 

4 things wrong with the ASTI (and one way to fix them)

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George Orwell: In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

In recent times the reputation of the ASTI has fallen off a cliff. Repeatedly our decisions have been based on emotion not on the facts available to us and on a desire to deliberately disrupt, not engage in negotiation. The ASTI has moved from a hard won position of authority and defence of Irish education to a laughing stock.

There is a pressing need for a modern, radical teacher trade unionism, more energetic and progressive than either the ‘toys out of the pram’ reactive, conservative union we have become or an old fashioned ‘just do pay and conditions’ union. Where is it? – this is what is at the heart of the ASTI’s ongoing crisis.

 

  1. DYSFUNCTIONAL LEADERSHIP

A trade union has to exercise leadership before, during and after a campaign of any sort. It traditionally  uses its power by both leading and at the same time following the members of the union. The power to lead is not enough, exercising that power and continuing to lead are also essential. Members accept or reject the ideas, values and leadership offered not because they have been tricked or indoctrinated, but because they have placed their hope and their trust in decision makers. When those members, those teachers, are separated, deliberately in some instances, from those decision makers, we find ourselves in a union that can claim thousands of members, but, in reality, the overwhelming majority of them have no knowledge of, interest in or accurate information on the decision making process. (The dearth of elections to Standing Committee, the inactivity of members and the difference between an active and inactive member of the ASTI will be the subject of a future post.)

Spoonfeeding members the bald ‘vote yes’ or ‘vote no’ without the whole picture denies them the opportunity to find out the truth about what is going on for themselves.

 

  1. DISENGAGED FROM MEMBERS, DISENGAGED FROM EDUCATION

In a functioning, democratic organisation, everything from a state to a workplace, the use of power is readjusted and re-negotiated all the time. The type of leadership we have now instead tries to secure the consent of ‘the membership’ through their inaction, their emotion or their fear. This kind of leadership constructs a consensus built on sand: a contract between leader and led built on deceit and incomplete information. That is what we have now. (I dealt with this in a previous post about the ballot on Croke Park Hours.) Making decisions based on emotion, as we did on Croke Park hours, without all the consequences in the open undermines a union in the eyes of its members because it allows people to absolve themselves of blame when events take a turn for the worst.

So this leadership has persuaded members to accept its bona fides on strategy (though this ‘strategy’  seems unachievable, if not invisible, to many of us). This strategy seems to assume that one can promise as much as one wants without any clear idea of what that is, or any acceptance of the compromises ahead. (This is what scuppered the acceptance of the outcome of the Junior Cycle: by not having a clear idea of what we wanted, it became very easy to say what we got wasn’t enough.) So now, members have been induced into moving outside a pay and conditions agreement by using the emotive decision on Croke Park hours. We now have leadership without consequences.

The current culture of disengagement needs to be challenged because unless it is dismantled, it is facilitating decision making that has worsened the conditions, and pay, of every member of the ASTI. It has allowed the union to exit a series of pay agreements and put the work of the ASTI as a trade union in jeopardy, sending us down a political blind alley. This lack of engagement extends beyond our own members though, it is a feature of the recent leaders to be distrustful and dismissive of external education parties of all descriptions. The way to ensure isolation is to aggravate and worsen relations with other unions, education bodies, officials and of course the public. It started with the NCCA. A body designed to advise, engage and research in education has become the enemy because of Junior Cycle reform. My attitude to the NCCA and Junior Cycle is easy to find elsewhere on this blog, but I have long advocated making common cause with that body in order to take on the Department of Education. That hasn’t happened at isn’t likely to. This isolationism extends to other unions. Despite the common perception that paid officials are the ones who oppose teacher unity, it is this group of pretend trade unionist who ‘wouldn’t trust the INTO as far as I’d throw them’, or ‘expect nothing better from the TUI, always let us down’. It even extends to turning down requests for support from other non-teaching unions who have members employed in education. And of course we have no sympathy in the DES. Personal relationships matter, but when the prevailing attitude is that any talk is collaboration, not having the back channel contacts means no movement, no solutions, no friends.

 

  1. TRUTHINESS AND DISSENT

We need to explain ourselves truthfully, not with the truthiness that seems to expect action without consequences: it is common sense, it is said, that if ‘they’ attack us we should react. Except there was no attack. If you were paying rent to landlord and were required to keep the flat clean and presentable, a job you resent but know your accommodation depends upon, you would probably, begrudgingly, do it. If you decided to stop doing it, even if your rent was up to date, your landlord would be able to show you your contract, point to the rubbish piling up, and say I can’t renew your tenancy. Is the landlord attacking you? There’s a common sense answer here of course, and it isn’t picketing the entrance to the property.

The way those who lead the ASTI now define the outward facing view of the ASTI is accepted by a core of (loud) members as common sense, the only ‘sensible’ way of seeing the issue at hand. In that climate discussion is rubberstamping, some meetings would remind a history teacher of those old newsreels of the Stalinist Politburo, and any one or group who present an alternative view is marginalised, as I well know. An attitude has developed of  “tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State) where to criticise or question decisions is seen to be traitorous. I have had the experience of being admonished for questioning decisions at Standing Committee, for asking questions at CEC, for for even writing on this blog about how flawed the most recent ballot was. (Details on request.)

What I won’t do here, or anywhere is say one thing to your face, or on this blog, and another when a door closes behind me and a decision has to be made. It has always amazed me how people vote against something on a Friday at Standing Committee and in favour of the same proposal on Saturday at CEC. (This happened on my proposal for a ballot for strike action on Junior Cycle.) The only answer to the question of why this happens is obvious: populism. The unholy alliance of older conservatives with younger populists has turned the ASTI away pragmatic action. It has led to the policy of isolation led from the top. How does this breed a motivated, engaged membership? How is the ASTI reaching out to teachers? Beyond the 4 or 5% of ‘active members’ who knows what is going on?

 

  1. CONSERVATISM , POPULISM

So call it what is, conservatism: the attitude that the past is where we belong. That what we have we hold, no change, no modernisation, no engagement. An unholy alliance of older Ian Paisley types whose ‘no, no,no’ attitude and those who conceive of the ASTI as a vehicle for confrontation when it should be a vehicle for the betterment of Irish education and those who deliver it.

Teachers by nature are not this kind of conservative, they move all the time, they bridge the divide between the knowledge they have and their students all the time. They change, upgrade, improve and plan ahead all the time, but this leadership doesn’t want any of that. The leadership has set itself against CPD for Junior Cycle (let’s face it we won that battle on almost everything), they have set themselves against planning, against supervising their students, they have set the ASTI against some of the core activities teachers do. And they have done this out of spite. Some have even suggested it is a battle to bring down the government! There is also the great irony of all this coming from people who display the essence of conservatism while claiming to be socialists.

A union, any organisation, has be have ideas and an ideology, those ideas create the climate for positioning and movement and also prevent the organisation from straying too far from its ideals. In both my failed election campaigns (the ones where I was being told repeatedly that I was too young in my mid forties to be elected Vice-President) I called for a written statement of policies and positions to be published by the ASTI. That will not happen because having ideas that are porous, flimsy and easy to recast is easier than having things you might have to stand by: marshmallow is easier to digest than the stuff that’s actually good for you. (Rule 4 outlines the objects of the Association, click the link and see if you think we’re fulfilling even half the things our forebears wanted us to be concerned with.)

 

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Dédiabolisation is a word coined in French for the process by which a group removes from its number those members or those ideas that have caused the group to be vilified. The time has come for dédiabolisation in the ASTI. We have prioritised acquisition over ideas, over education itself. That is why we now need, the repositioning of the ASTI as an outward facing, open organisation of professionals, interested in education, intent on the best conditions and pay for members, prioritising those worst off, in the ways its members approve most of. That’s what teachers do.

 

Orwell: All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.


This is the first of three posts about the ASTI today.

 

Fintan O’Mahony

CEC member 2003-16

Standing Committee 2011-16

ASTI member since 1993

Responses/comments welcome as always

twitter: @levdavidovic

email: natnif2@yahoo.ie
Image credit

15 things you should know about the ASTI Ballot on Croke Park Hours

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I wanted to stay away from commenting on what our union is up to for a while because I didn’t want to leave myself open to charges of sour grapes, or being a sore loser. So I’m going to confine myself to commenting in this post on the upcoming ASTI ballot on 33 Croke Park hours.

But…

First it has to be said that on all fronts, most notably on Junior Cycle and the Lansdowne Road Agreement, there has been no movement and little engagement. This is despite the pressing need to develop a response, a credible response, on the slow decline of teaching as a profession held in high regard: cuts to pensions and new entrants pay (not to mention casualisation), the decimation of middle management in schools and the removal or downgrading of guidance in many schools. In fact, the recent offer of talks on a wide range of these issues was declined by the ASTI. There is no good reason not to listen to what your opposition wants to say. If you are not talking, you are not representing your members, and if you are not talking because you think you know what the other side will say before they say it, you are irresponsible. Genuine trade unionists prize advantageous resolution above all else, but it appears clear that the ASTI leadership now wants not to resolve any of the above issues. For this leadership, action can wait. It will be promised, but it will never happen, rather the issue, whichever issue it is, will be strung out without resolution until members are forced into a corner and have to accept an offer without having taken the action promised. This is what happened on the Haddington Road Agreement, an agreement entered into after repeated negotiation achieved all that could be achieved without a single day’s strike action. There is no chance of resolving any of the issue on which we have decided to simultaneously fight if we are only talking to ourselves. The only conclusion reachable is that resolution is no longer on the agenda for the do-nothings running the show and isolation is preferable to communication.

 

On the Ballot

With a disillusioned and disconnected membership, it is essential they know the implications of their decisions, particularly when being outside an agreement will put many vulnerable teachers in grave danger. There is a duty to members to inform them fully, if information is withheld a legal challenge is possible.

 

I believe that incomplete information has been published for members in advance of the ballot. Below I will try to fill in the gaps.

 

‘Members will be asked to vote Yes or No to the following question: Are you in favour of authorising ASTI Standing Committee to direct members not to fulfil the 33 Croke Park hours upon completion of the Haddington Road Agreement?’

 

None of the reasons presented in the latest Nuacht for withdrawal from the Croke Park hours will raise a quibble from me. That they are part of HRA and it is concluding unless unions accept LRA as an extension of the earlier agreement is true. The ASTI has not accepted the agreement and has always maintained the work represents a huge imposition on teachers, partly because of its prescriptive nature, and partly because it is largely unproductive. The fact that extracurricular work cannot be counted towards the delivery of CP hours is a bugbear for many of us who coach teams, train debaters, conduct choirs or produce the school play.

 

It is when we come to the implications of withdrawal from 33 Croke Park hours that the problems with information for members begin. We are all clear that members will not be comprehended by the terms of a collective agreement. The Nuacht makes it clear that FEMPI legislation will apply to those outside LRA. (There is, by the way, no chance of fighting FEMPI while outside an agreement, having antagonised ICTU and other public sector unions in a show of braggadocio).

 

So…

(information not included in the latest Nuacht in bold)

The Salary increase of €1,000 for teachers earning less than 65,000, excluding allowances on 1 September 2017 will not be paid.

An increase in pay for those earning less than €24,000 (annualised) of 2.5% and for those earning less than €31,000 (annualised) of 1% will not be available.

Half of the previous higher pay cut for those earning €65,000+ to be restored on 1st April 2017 and the other half on 1st June 2018 under HRA will not be paid.

It is also worth pointing out that the ASTI was told in October that these increases would be paid except in the event of a repudiation of the agreement. A Yes vote amounts to a repudiation.

 

Increments will be frozen until at least 1 July 2018, without a collective agreement FEMPI legislation becomes the method for dealing with ASTI members, and it could be amended again in 2018 to extend the freeze. No table of comparison for what this would mean for salaries over a short or extended period is provided.

 

There will be no addition of the equivalent of the Supervision and Substitution allowance to the pay scale. This means that the S&S allowance of €1,592 – half on 1 September 2016 and half on 1 September 2017 – will not be paid. There is no calculation as to how much this unpaid flat-rate, pensionable amount would amount to over the course of a teacher’s career. My own calculation is that it would cost me between a half and three-quarters of a year’s pay over the remainder of my career. A flat -rate increase of course benefits lower paid teachers and new entrants. I calculate that without S&S restoration and with an incremental freeze, a teacher below the tenth point of the salary scale could lose €6-7,000 by 2018 . FEMPI will specifically be used to prevent the delivery of this payment, and we would be delivering S&S for free, for the length of our careers with no chance of an opt out.

 

Teachers will lose the alleviation of the ‘double hit’ for those earning in excess of €65,000. Those who lost the S&S allowance and were also subject to the salary reduction for high earners had their reduction alleviated by the amount of the S&S allowance.

 

The pay reduction for teachers earning over €65,000 will not be reversed because if HRA doesn’t exist, the government can argue that failure to reach a succeeding agreement allows for the means there exists no facility for paying it.

The publication of various pay scales for comparison of implications on the pay of members in the Nuacht was standard information in the past, I have completed some basic calculations above, but everyone would be affected differently and each voter should look at the implications for salary in voting yes or no.

 

Will long service allowance continue to be paid? No mention of it in the Nuacht.

 

Will CIDs revert to the pre-Ward report 3 or 4 year awards? Four years is the norm elsewhere in the Public Service. It appears the ASTI has advice on this which was not shared with members. It is likely that, given recent comments by DES officials that this is being considered.

 

There is no mention of  where the redeployment scheme will stand. HRA gave protection from redundancy to public servants. Three years ago, while the ASTI opposed HRA, a list of schools over quota was published by the DES in order to make clear who might be targeted for redundancy, a disgraceful move no doubt, but we hadn’t repudiated an agreement then, as we might now. Where the redeployment scheme stands after our decision, yes or no, is unclear.

Parent-teacher meetings and Staff meetings: If we are outside an agreement, what happens to parent-teacher meetings? What agreement covers them and in/out staff meetings? Why aren’t we balloting to withdraw from 45 hours, rather than 33?

 

Pension related deductions are not mentioned.

The Grace Period for retirees which effectively extends to September 2018 would also be under threat. With hundreds retiring every year, the Nuacht makes no mention of how the result of a ballot would affect this option to retire on the pre-cut salary.

 

No mention is made of dispute resolution either. In normal circumstances, the WRC would adjudicate in disputes, large and small, without that route, the ASTI might have to resort to the courts directly or negotiate directly with the DES. That does not seem to be on the agenda for any issue at the moment.

 

The procedures for balloting sent to Stewards make no mention of holding a meeting to discuss the issue prior to voting. Branches have been encouraged to hold information meetings. It remains to be seen how well attended they will be.

 

I don’t want to tell you how to vote this time, I can see why teachers might want to see the back of Croke Park hours, but I believe that they will only go temporarily. If we are ever to begin discussions with the DES again, they will be back on the table.

The time for a strategy with a clear purpose is long gone.

Fintan O’Mahony

natnif2@yahoo.ie

@levdavidovic

 

 

 

For teachers. For a change.

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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