Stand Up

People who read this blog may know that I am no fan of Fine Gael.  Since their landslide victory in 2011 they have pursued an agenda that has led to terrible hardship amongst the poorer members of society.

Homelessness is on the rise, we still have direct provision, the health service is on its knees, we have multiple new taxes, and public servants (in the truest sense of that term) have had to make huge sacrifices For The Good Of The Country.  We were sold this sacrifice ‘For The Good Of All’, for the good of the country, and shur, dontcha know that it’s only temporary and we’ll get your pay back as soon as we can.

Well, weren’t we in for the surprise.

Across the public service workers were implicitly accused of being ‘unproductive’.  Apparently the cure for this was to cut staffing levels and ask everyone to work an extra 33 hours per year for free.  Please feel free to define ‘Productivity’ as it applies to doctors, nurses, gardai, or teachers.

Add to this the slashing of budgets, the degradation of working conditions, and a concerted media campaign have ensured a demoralised public service.  Let us not forget the fear factor.  FEMPI has been waved as a stick to go with the elusive carrot in negotiations.

Some of what has been done is reprehensible.  The different pay scales for new entrants is abhorrent.  It has also been used to drive a wedge into the unions.

You see, despite the claims that the unions have sold out their junior members, I think that its more simple and more depressing than that.  The government negotiators outmanoeuvred the unions.  I do believe the unions should have taken up the fight for young members a lot sooner.

However, as the saying goes, if the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.

The unions are finally standing up for their younger members – and in some cases the fight is about restoring pay to pre-2008 levels.

And the government are going to fight this tooth and nail.  Just look at the use of FEMPI against ASTI members following the rejection of the latest agreement.

For whatever ideological reason, some branches of the media are backing up the government on this.  In the Independent today Eddie Molloy argued that giving into the unions would ‘hurt us all’. Of course he used far more emotive language.  Also today the editorial in the Indo refers to the GRA pay claims as ‘Brinkmanship‘, and that it ‘holds us all to ransom.

This stuff is hard to stomach.  Across the public service employees have faced sub-standard wages for the bones of a decade.  And yet now that we are told that the recession is over, now that we have been asked to ‘keep the recovery going’, now that the central bank can say that government finances are 1/2 billion ahead of target (again), now we are accused of being selfish.

Now is the time for the unions to stand together and fight for reversals of the cuts that have plagued the public service.  Of course there are differences of opinion within the unions.  We are democratic organisations and difference is healthy.  But enough is enough.  We need to fight the government and its anti-public service agenda.

And don’t buy the indo.


I love this piece on Capuchin monkeys rejecting pay inequality:

A Clear Voice

I was driving home last week and heard Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation debating with Matt Cooper.  Something struck me.  The nurses and midwives are very lucky to have such a well well spoken man to fight their cause.  Liam has the knack of taking whatever issues are important and presenting them in a clear way.  And that is a rare skill.  He has done a huge service to his profession in putting forward the nurses and midwives’ case.  This has served them very well in the public arena.

Unfortunately, I honestly don’t feel that we teachers are so lucky.  With all the attacks on education in the past 6 years, teachers have garnered little enough public sympathy for their cause.  There are a number of reasons why this may be the case:

  • The old joke of the three best reasons to be a teacher.
  • The perception that we clock off at 4.00 with a grand free evening ahead.
  • Everyone has an opinion about what teachers should be doing.
  • The perception that teaching is ‘chalk & talk’, that teachers are not innovators

Others can debate the validity (or not) of these reasons.  I’m more concerned with the fact that we, as a profession, have not countered these perceptions, that we have not been effective in the public sphere.

I think part of the explanation is the fragmentation of the teaching unions.

There are three Teachers’ Unions in Ireland

At the Easter Conferences of the Unions, it was mooted that the ASTI & the TUI should merge.  This idea makes a lot of sense for me, at least you would have one voice to speak with on behalf of second level.

However, a bigger problem, for me, is the fact we don’t have a publicly identifiable speaker who is as recognisable as Liam Doran.  While different presidents of all teaching unions have done well in their brief tenures, the nature of a presidency that lasts just a few years means that any president doesn’t build up the profile over time that Liam Doran has managed to do.

And what can we do about the profile of our unions or officers?

Maybe the merger of the ASTI and the TUI is a good first step, but I think we need to go a bit further than that.

  • I think that such a merger should bring a new General Secretary, one who is able to put educational issues across in a clear manner
  • The Union(s) need to adapt a more proactive stance with regards to the media.  Much of what they currently publish is legalistic, or a counter-argument to what the Minister is saying.  This doesn’t work very well.  It’s a tennis match where the other guy gets to serve all the time.
  • We could do with looking at how teachers use social media.  There is a hunger out there for debate (of the 10 top viewed posts in this blog, 9 are about education)
  • We need to increase public awareness of the challenges in teaching

The Unions have a huge job to do, but I think they need to step back and examine how they have been doing it so far.  The strategy is flawed and needs to be revised.  Otherwise the attacks by this government and its minister will continue.