At this year’s NUT conference the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) used its bulletin to open a discussion about whether we should be in favour of a single teachers’ union.
It is excellent that debate was carried in the bulletin. It is exactly the sort of discussion we need within LANAC as we fight to strengthen and build the organisation. However there was a different viewpoint missing from the debate.
Workers’ Liberty believes that more than a single teachers’ union, although that would clearly be big a step forward, we need a single school workers’ union. Many of the issues we face as teachers are faced by other workers in schools. In my school we regularly work together on union issues alongside our colleagues in the GMB and Unison. In recent months we have worked together over issues concerning back to work interviews, health and safety concerns, as well as over the pay and pensions disputes.
In reality most classroom teachers will have more in common with teaching assistants (TAs) and other school workers than they will with Senior Leadership — many of whom are organised within the NUT. In the case of TAs they are often in the same classrooms, working with the same children as we are, and with the same goals as we have. Within a single school workers’ union many of the issues we would address would be the same.
Some may argue that a single school workers’ union would undermine teachers’ professional status. I consider myself first and foremost a worker rather than a professional. The notion of teachers as some sort of elite professionals, who are somehow better than other education workers, runs counter to the idea of solidarity and effective trade unionism. Where the issue is a practical one concerning TAs and others taking classes instead of teachers, our approach to this shouldn’t be “you can’t do that. You are not a professional teacher”. Rather “if management are going to ask you to teach a class, they should get you proper training and a teacher’s salary”. Although the Tories are keen to undermine the professional status of teachers, we can best defend ourselves not by declaring ourselves special elite but by arguing for appropriate training for all those leading classes and for a levelling up of wages and conditions.
It is less than a year since we saw the potential strength of a school workers’ union. When, on the 10th July 2014, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) struck alongside support staff and other school workers in Unite, Unison and the GMB we were able to close more schools than if we had struck alone. Were we to be able to organise, within one union, alongside our brothers and sisters who carry out other roles within schools, any threat of action would carry more weight. When it is necessary to strike, the chances of closing schools through our action would be far greater.
A single school workers’ union would be more effective in defending teachers, other education workers, and education. We should fight to make it a reality.