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

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

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.

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

Reads of the Week #41

Reads this week from Dublin, Baltimore, boxing, the web and the workplace battleground…
From Alan Kinsella here’s an inside view of Croke Park.

In this interview Peter Fleming discusses neoliberalism’s war on workers.
Kate Crane wants to know: what happened to her father Eddy?

Roddy Doyle on Paris under attack.
Lydia Monin writes on Dan Donnelly, Irish boxer, scourge of English fighters.

And finally, Tech is raising our kids, so what? asks Alex Balk

Image credit

Reads of the Week #39

Some heavy hitters here in a good week of reading, mainly because it was midterm and there was time for reading. Time for reading is golden.

James Snell asks though the literary and the historical can co-exist, should they? Should the writers of history make conscious decisions about their work on the basis of little more than style? I would humbly suggest that the answer to both of those questions is yes – and that the writing of history would be greatly improved – both in quality and reach – if more people thought so too. 

Writing history with skill and verve is not a distasteful exercise.

Terry Eagleton writes: As professors are transformed into managers, so students are converted into consumers. Universities fall over one another in an undignified scramble to secure their fees. Once such customers are safely within the gates, there is pressure on their professors not to fail them, and thus risk losing their fees. The general idea is that if the student fails, it is the professor’s fault, rather like a hospital in which every death is laid at the door of the medical staff.

Universities are service stations for neocapitalism.

Reviewing When the Facts Change: Essays by Tony Judt, Nicholas Lezard writes There are one or two big things, however, that the historian Tony Judt changed his mind about, and in this superb collection of essays, which consists mainly of substantial reviews from the New York and London Reviews of Books, we can track at least one of them.

A penetrating eye for realpolitik.

Kate Harding says being kidnapped by a pedophile: it’s basically like summer camp that never ends, if you ask Bill O’Reilly.

Everything Fox News gets horribly wrong about rape culture.


Malcolm Gladwell writes The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

How School Shootings Spread.

To text or not to text… that was never the question. But what if Hamlet or Jane Eyre had got their hands on a mobile phone? Mallory Ortberg introduces her series of literary masterpieces reimagined for the 21st century, Mallory Ortberg in the Guardian.

Literary classics in text messages.

Read of the Week #38

This week: 

The archive of all previous posts is here

Image credit

Reads of the Week #33

First this week the story of the man who takes care of Kermit since Jim Henson died, interesting, informative and touching. 

Next, here’s Laura June on her small daughter and technology, they copy everything we do.

Here’s Jay Rayner’s review of restaurant Smith & Wollensky, he doesn’t like it much. 

On politics this is fascinating: Nordic Social Democratic politics and Olof Palme.

And finally the unsettling tale of the sex and lies one woman endured to survive the Holocaust.

Here are the tweets of every read so far, 160 and counting. 

This is the archive of all the reads so far.