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Are unions sometimes unhelpful?

Discussion in 'Pay and conditions' started by flyingcircusfreak, Jan 23, 2016.

  1. flyingcircusfreak

    flyingcircusfreak New commenter

    It sometimes strikes me, reading these forums, that when people say 'my union told me x' on legal matters, the union has often said what it would like to be the case, rather than what actually is the case.

    As with ASOSA, the members are in the front line dealing with unhappy SLT, but the actual support for the members from the union is reactive rather than proactive.

    Any thoughts?

  2. applecrumblebumble

    applecrumblebumble Lead commenter

    Being a union member has some responsibilities in that if an action has been balloted and a majority have voted for such action then your union has instructed you to take said action. The word 'instructed' unfortunately goes against some members professional feelings about the action or more likely they do not want to lose a days pay. My attitude to the members of my union if they did not take action was to advise them to join another association.
    Being a rep. in any school is a precarious existence with some SLT - you are a target and they will look for anything to trip you up. I found it was helpful to always be in close contact with my regional rep. or higher and let it be known to the SLT that I was. As with action short of strike action (ASOSA) it was always important to have regular meetings with members and keeping the SLT informed of action. I would agree that ASOSA is always a difficult one to maintain as members tend to get on and do things themselves (admin. tasks usually).
    In the case of any action it can be proactive if the membership want it to be. All too often things kick off when something happens to a member with no warning and then the union has to come in and fire fight - never a strong position.

    So support your school rep. and go to meetings in your local area and voice your concerns. If the SLT sees a strong union presence they will often trend carefully and treat you with respect. Often a good SLT will want to have regular meetings with the reps. to avoid misunderstandings.
    Compassman likes this.
  3. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    I disagree with you.

    Being a member of a union has no responsibilities to take such action. The only responsibilities both members and the union have are those set out in the terms and conditions of membership.

    Being a member of a union is to enter a contract: no more; no less. Both parties are bound by the terms of the contract agreed when the contract was made.

    The majority of teachers, when asked, state that the principal reason for joining a union is for legal advice and support, should they need it. The terms and conditions of all unions state that they will provide their members with such support, often defining it with superlatives.

    My experience over some eight years of both providing support and information for posters here and using a union's member services myself, is the reality often falls short of the standard for which members have contracted.

    There are now alternatives - such as EDAPT - though employees are perhaps ham-strung in their choice by the legal provision which states that the right to be accompanied in disciplinary hearings extends only to union reps and colleagues. There is a recent case that suggests that this may be challenged and everyone I know who has used EDAPT has experienced no difficulty with their representation.

    And no - before anyone asks - I am neither a member of EDAPT nor have any pecuniary interest in them.
  4. HelenREMfan

    HelenREMfan Star commenter

    My thoughts on my daughter's "Union" are unprintable.
  5. applecrumblebumble

    applecrumblebumble Lead commenter

    My point has always been the responsibility of the member to support their union not just wait until something goes wrong and then consult them. I have seen such a malaise of support over the last 10 - 15 years and as you say teachers do say I only have a union for the insurance, legal support etc. The union is the members and they can influence the direction of the unions action but often it is the poor rep. who has to take all the flack so much so that it is difficult to get a rep. in a school.
    To support my point you look at how the situation has changed in workplace dilemmas over the last 10 years - more bullying, more concerns about capability (especially older members) even sneaky practise on employment contracts, I could go. I would admit you are entering into a service by virtue of paying a subscription but on that basis you might as well find good household insurance if you only want the legal services etc.
    DYNAMO67 likes this.
  6. Compassman

    Compassman Star commenter


    I have said many times on here that the inaction of union members over the past few years has led to where we are today.

    GLGhost is also correct in saying that many have joined their union as an insurance policy but have forgotten what a union is. Many think it is 'unprofessional' to follow the instructions of a union. Maybe as "applecrumblebumble" says above they should have just get a decent household insurance policy.

    I remember posting on the TES forum five years ago stating that I would hope that union members would stand together and fight the oncoming storm from the likes of Gove. I could see what was coming but even I couldn't have predicted how bad it would get. Of course, very few did and we are in a right mess.

    I remember the subject of capability coming up and thinking of the odd rubbish teacher that I knew of and thinking that 'capability' referred to them. Five years on and capability means someone who doesn't work over and above, someone who doesn't use a purple pen when marking books or someone who gets 'satisfactory' in a lesson observation. I really hadn't seen that criteria being used.

    What we now have is teachers (especially older ones like me) leaving the profession by finding work elsewhere, retiring early, becoming ill from stress or just throwing the towel in. It's a disgrace but many teachers even now are standing by and letting it happen. The teachers have let it happen not the union. They could have stood solidly against the tide of employment abuse but they didn't. They have accepted the culture of fear in many schools.

    It was mentioned in another thread about the rail unions. a strike is called nearly 100% support, work to rule nearly 100% support. Their pay and conditions have got better year on year. They know the power of standing together. Strikes by teachers are, at most supported by 50% of the workforce (not helped by the divided unions of course) and ASOSA only supported by a very small number of members. I was one of the few that did and the head didn't like one bit.
  7. TheoGriff

    TheoGriff Star commenter

  8. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    You are right @Compassman but the comparison with train drivers (and in particular the London Tube Drivers) actually highlights why teaching unions have not not, and in my opinion never will, achieve what the late Bob Crow did for London tube workers. For tube drivers it's their economic clout, their ability to bring London commuting to a halt. They have power, business suffers when the tube stops for 48 hours. Who would suffer if London's schools had 100% strike support for 48 hours? Let's be honest, no-one really. Inconvenience yes, real economic impact, no. So tube drivers got continued improvements in pay and working conditions, teachers (and just about everyone else) didn't. Because Bob Crow's single mindedness got results he got nigh on 100% support. Teachers industrial action in recent years has achieved, well not a lot really.

    Tube drivers are a homogeneous group, all doing the same thing and all living and working in the same place. Teachers aren't. The outlook and culture of a large inner London or Birmingham secondary is often very different from, say those in small rural primary schools. I have friends working in Inner London and in rural Norfolk and by and large the rural Norfolk ones think that the leadership of unions are all inner city secondary people that they don't identify with, and consequently don't feel any particular obligation to follow the decisions of union conferences. They joined the union for its services, the leadership can get on with their national politicking "but don't involve us in it". (I'm not saying all rural teachers think that, before anyone takes a shot at me!).

    There's a wider generational issue as well. Posters on here lamenting the failure of staff to support industrial action are usually, like me, in the later stages of our careers. We grew up when trade unionism was a powerful force. My daughter is a teacher. Talking to her and her friends - 'millenials' I guess you'd call them - I'm struck by two things. One is they are very apolitical compared to what I talked about when their age. The other is that, although they mostly look blank at the mention of her name, they are truly Thatcher's Children. They just don't have a collective mentality, rather that someone gets things done through their own individual efforts or whatever. They're probably in for a nasty surprise one day, but in the meantime they don't see that joining a union gives the union any right to tell them to go on strike, any more than say their car insurer could instruct them where to drive. Their idea of building a consensus for action is to sign an online petition - not to actually do anything that takes time and effort.
    eljefeb90, DYNAMO67 and GLsghost like this.
  9. applecrumblebumble

    applecrumblebumble Lead commenter

    So in this modern day and age I am sure some media campaign could be instigated to inform the public of the state of conditions in teaching today, using facebook, twitter etc. but somebody has to show the initiative and work collectively to generate support not just sign a petition. I know on the 'get into teaching' facebook page it often has negative comments so people are using the power of media but I suspect they are the same people in unions trying to make teaching a better place.
    To all you young teachers out there thinking you do not need a union and you get that requires improvement or inadequate lesson observation even though you are teaching the same way for the previous 4/5 years (good or better) - you will care about your union then.
  10. TheoGriff

    TheoGriff Star commenter


    Very interesting and thoughtful post, @Rott Weiler .

    Best wishes


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