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INTO Conference: Social Partnership – Déjà vu all over again

John McAnulty

2nd April 2005

The INTO Easter conference in Galway met against a background of teachers’ pay being ‘resolved’. This resolution is more apparent than real in that recent pay rises are the outcome of a decade of pay restraint, so that even tiny annual increases appear to be large. It is also the case that the implications of a benchmarking process that ushers in a mechanism of performance-related pay have yet to be sharply felt.

The outcome of this apparent resolution is that allowed a sharper focus on the overall crisis of Irish education and the partnership solution proposed by the union bureaucracy.

The solution involved lots of smiles for the new education minister, Mary Hanafin. The previous minister, Noel Dempsey, had imposed a neoliberal agenda without any pretence of dealing with the sensibilities of the union bureaucracy. The new minister was to signal a return to partnership by announcing significant new resources for education.

However, following the ministerial speech, smiles were a little forced. The major issue around which the INTO leadership had lobbied had been class size. Ireland is second from bottom of the European league table in terms of class size. The minister promised nothing. Resources were to be targeted to areas of deprivation and to the catastrophic area of special needs, with the major aim of reducing the class size here to the number (20) regarded as standard in the rest of Europe. The issues of rising illiteracy and massive social deprivation in working-class areas were mentioned but no proposals to resolve the situation were made.

When the delegates had their say there were angry speeches. There were demands for a campaign – but it was to be a partnership campaign – lobbying government and looking to management bodies for support. The fact is that after a decade of support for unity with government and bosses there is little understanding even amongst rank and file trade unionists of a class perspective on education.

Such a class perspective would focus on the inability of Irish capital to meet the needs of the working class. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ based on multi-national investment is successful only to the extent that it delivers immunity from large-scale taxation. This means that the state is unable to create the social infrastructure to meet the rising expectations of the working class. The capitalists and large sections of the middle class can avoid the crisis by buying their own sanctuaries within exclusive schools.

An all-day debate of the widespread practice of employing unqualified teachers highlighted the exceptionalism of Irish education. Much of the practice rests on clientelism and the power of the church. As long as it exists the qualifications of trained teachers will be open to question, yet after years of lobbying government ‘partners’ are unwilling to resolve the issue.

The outcome of the conference under Hanafin was identical to the oppression of former minister Dempsey. Education is still starved of resources and much greater demands are to be made of teachers. What it demonstrates is the failure of partnership and the vacuity of trade union leadership.


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