INTO conference: British spell out the end of social partnership to slow learners
21 March 2005
The INTO Northern conference of the 4th and 5th of March illustrated perfectly the collapse of an informal policy of social partnership in one sector of Northern trade unionism and the inability of the trade union leadership to respond to attack from the right.
Last summer saw the collapse of a strategy among the teachers’ unions where the bureaucracies would unite in the hope that their protest would shift the government from a policy of wage cuts and performance related pay. When the government, strongly supported by CCMS (1) wouldn’t play ball it was the bureaucrats who gave way and fought among themselves, even before any serious industrial action had taken place.
Nothing daunted, the INTO leadership continued the policy of partnership by inviting education secretary Barry Gardiner and CCMS head Donal Flannigan to address them. The result – the delegates were treated with absolute contempt. The arrogant CCMS altar boy Flannigan didn’t even bother to turn up. Hard man Gardiner gave them a tongue lashing, indicating that he wouldn’t be meeting even the limited promises made at the end of the protest and personally attacking INTO secretary Frank Bunting.
John Carr, INTO general secretary, responded by listing the four points agreed at the end of the 2005 dispute. The British administration had met two and were threatening to renege on two. INTO response? We would continue to responsibly carry out our side of the bargain while protesting. Without irony the years of ineffectual protest against the 11+ test were given as an example of the strategy. The interesting thing is that the British consider even this as too extreme an opposition and have been manoeuvring with other unions to throw INTO off the teachers council!
The conference was a shambles. There was self-congratulation at the wonderful leadership which had led to absolute defeat. There was no discussion of the future attacks already led out by the British, mainly involving a massive attack on pension rights. It was the response to the current attacks, focusing on savage cutbacks in the budgets of Education and Library boards, which was most revealing. The Northern committee congratulated itself on a policy of calling for amalgamation of the boards, a policy which could only be interpreted by the employers as a green light to go ahead with the cuts. This was made explicit by the conference chair. Union policy should be to look after number one.
In this he was entirely wrong, as many delegates protested. Solidarity is not some soft liberalism, but an essential tool of trade unionism. In standing shoulder to shoulder with ancillary workers, teachers would be protecting their own wages and conditions. Teachers’ failure to be involved in industrial action around pensions simply leaves them as sitting ducks.
One issue stood out. The call for the abolition of CCMS would have left the way open for INTO to climb out of its ghetto in the Catholic primary sector and really fight to unify teachers and public sector workers. Sadly the item was referred back to Northern committee.
The days of the British and the Church even pretending to play ball with teachers unions are long gone. The union leadership haven’t woken up to this fact yet. Their members will not be long in noticing the offensive at the chalk face.
(1) Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the quango set up to ensure Church control of education even when they lacked the popular support to directly control individual schools.