Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A heartwarming tale

Annual conference is unpredictable. Sometimes delegates think they are due to speak right up to the last minute and then "next business" is moved so they miss their chance. I know. This happened to me last year.

There is a reason why reps are in the firing line. If I were called to speak on the amendment to resolution 74 - which seeks to protect reps by collective action as well as casework support - this is what I would say:

An old steelworker was on his last legs, poor guy. With his ante-penultimate breath he said to his wife "I want the union branch to carry my coffin at the funeral.”

“Jack” she said (I think his name was Jack) “you were never a member of the union.”

“That’s right. They carried me when I were alive. They can carry me when I’m dead.”

It is an attitude we are familiar with.

I run a helpline for stressed teachers in West Sussex (I don’t get out much) and I receive calls from people who are not in the union asking for advice. Frankly the best advice I can give them is to join the NUT.

When you are in trouble; when the Ofsted Inspector hits the fan

• who is your friend?
• who is unconditionally on your side?
• who is going to fight your corner?

And in every case it is the union rep.

The key words of this amendment are:
“Bullying is best challenged by a collective and organised response.” (The amendment to resolution 74)

Some of you will have heard this story and I will certainly go on telling it until the day I die.

The union rep at a school “somewhere in Sussex” was targeted for redundancy by the head teacher. There were a lot of issues at the school and the union reps of all three unions were at the storm centre of the demands arising from the staff involving allegations of bullying by the head.

It is possible that the head surmised that removing the union rep would remove the problem.

The regional office intervened and all three unions held a meeting to agree a form of words to present to the governors. Teachers had been forbidden by the head to talk to governors. Since the NUT rep was married to a governor this didn’t make things straightforward.

There was a petition signed by all of the staff except senior management who were forbidden to sign it – one of them did anyway. Good for him.

There was a proposal from the meeting to hold a ballot for action the following week….when OFSTED would be on the premises and the eyes of the local press focussed on the school.

The head decided that discretion was the better part of valour and perhaps the financial circumstances of the school were not all that bad and, as the NUT had suggested at the outset, the reserves could take the strain.

The net result was that not only was the rep’s job saved – for which he is eternally grateful – but the head was then unable to make anybody else redundant either and the NUT remains the largest union in the school to this day.

This is not just trade union solidarity. This is NUT trade union solidarity.

It is what built this union in the past. It is what will build it in the future.

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