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Rank and file teachers discuss trade union fightback

Kevin Keating

13th March 2002

The following leaflet was distributed at a meeting of the rank and file group ‘Teachers United’ at a meeting in Dublin on 13th March.  Teachers United includes members of the three main teacher’s unions including the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI), the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) and Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO).

The ASTI Dispute

The ASTI is re-opening the dispute on benchmarking from a position where they are weaker than they were last year when their pay campaign was defeated.  Through treachery of the leadership of the TUI and INTO they are isolated from their colleagues in these unions. There is a debate going on in the ASTI about their strategy. They need to decide on the core principles on which they campaign and how to achieve the unity necessary to defeat the reactionary coalition ranged against them.

The things which the ASTI got right were that Benchmarking was central to the attacks on teachers and the public sector in general.  They also got it right that they could not hope to win within the partnership agreements, nor under the umbrella of the ICTU. Every sector who have tried to defend themselves in the recent past – from the nurses to the Aer Lingus workers -have been stabbed in the back by the ICTU leadership.

The last round of their dispute failed on two crucial issues.
 1. While Bertie Ahern was able to build a coalition comprised of Government, the union leadership and the so-called parents associations against them, the ASTI failed to build an alliance to counter this.
2. The other aspect, the ‘nuclear option’ of boycotting the exams amounted to teachers taking full responsibility for the inevitable disruption that any dispute would cause.

The only way that this dispute can be salvaged is by keeping Benchmarking and the future of Education aggressively at the center of the dispute.  This means a campaigning approach, which can clarify the danger benchmarking poses not just for teachers but also for every worker in the public service and for every worker dependent on non-privatized services - it will take some time and debate before the issues at stake are clear to larger numbers of people.  Benchmarking is a precursor to full implementation of the neo liberal agenda – deregulation and privatization.

The potential for a campaign against these attacks are huge because it affects the whole of the working class.  We must be clear, we can only achieve a broader unity on the central issues - supervision and pay demands- while very important, can be seen as a sectoral issue of little consequence to the rest of the working class.  A clear example of this was in Aer Lingus where some pay gains were made under a cynical leadership who kept the imminent danger of downsizing and privatization off the agenda, this resulted in thousands of workers losing their jobs and the rest losing all their conditions.  The nurse’s dispute was the same, they won a modest pay increase and the health service fell about their feet. Teachers should learn the lessons of these struggles.

The only way a political assault against teachers and other public sector workers can be met is by having a political agenda of our own. Defense of education, healthcare and public service with proper pay and conditions.

The ASTI should be concentrating on building a concerted Campaign against Benchmarking and partnership.

They should be organizing Public Meetings and Debates on Benchmarking and campaigning to win the support of parents and other trade unionists particularly the other teacher unions who in the majority voted against Benchmarking

Teachers are the best defenders of education and should be leading the debate on the future of education and not leaving it to the anti-teacher alliance.



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