Let’s talk about mandates, unions and strikes

With a public sector strike looming, the Tories are questioning the legitimacy of the numbers of those union members who have voted to go out on strike. Although those voting in favour were in the majority, the turnout was as low as 29%.

But the Tories forget something: most by-elections attract a turnout of around 30%; sometimes less. Yet, in spite of the low turnout, a candidate is elected to parliament with no questions asked about such poor numbers. Many local authorities are also elected on similar turnouts – some of those councils, incidentally, are Tory-controlled councils. In fact,  the turnout for local elections in Britain is the lowest in Europe.  Indeed, some of their own MPs were elected on low turnouts. But not a peep from them about this.

Recently, the likes of Vince Cable, Boris Johnson and now, Francis Maude have all threatened to introduce tougher anti-union legislation if the unions ‘cripple the economy’, which is just another way of passing the buck and covering for the fact that the government is clueless in its approach to the nation’s finances.  In today’s Guardian, Maude said that he and the rest of the government “had not ruled out” tougher legislation. Interestingly enough, one of the unions that voted to strike was the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The ATL, as far as I know, has never gone out on strike. But this doesn’t stop the Telegraph’s gobshite-in-chief from spouting rubbish about “hardcore Trotskyites”. The ATL is usually known for  encouraging and allowing strike-breaking among its members in its Further Education section.  Of course, The Hon Tobes, being the ignoramus that he is, completely ignores the union’s history to get in a spot of union-bashing.

Having debated Mary Bousted on numerous occasions (see here, for instance), I don’t doubt that she’s completely sincere in her belief that Michael Gove’s education reforms will have a negative impact on state education. She’s wrong, of course, but she’s entitled to use the public platform granted to her by her union to put her case as strongly as possible.

But to go further than this and exploit her members’ anxiety about pension reforms to pursue her own ideological agenda is unacceptable. Whatever her political views, she and her trade union have an obligation to abide by the decision of the British people and respect the will of its elected representatives. To call a strike this summer would not only be an unforgivable attack on our schoolchildren, it would be an affront to democracy.

This Tory-led government is committed to making public sector workers pay greater contributions towards their pensions. Hon Tobes wilfully misleads us when he claims that Mary Bousted is “exploiting her members’ anxiety”. The concern among public sector workers is very real. I wonder if he’s actually spoken to any teachers?

In today’s Torygraph, Maude said,

For the parents – particularly if you’re a single mother who’s working and you’re dependant on the school being open and your child being at school – when that school randomly closes down when all the discussions about the dispute are still going on, people are going to be quite angry about that.

This is an odd statement, particularly as the Tories have repeatedly shown little sympathy for the plight of single parents. But, once again, Maude seems to think that it’s only women who are single parents. But none of us should be surprised by the impoverished thinking among members of the current government. This comment from Hon Tobes blog perfectly illustrates the widespread and wilful ignorance that pervades the party,

If Bob Hawke could fire all the domestic airline pilots in Australia and Ronnie Regan could fire all the air traffic controllers in the USA with neither action really impairing the airline industry, why not fire all the striking teachers. British education is a sad joke and it would be the ideal time to start afresh, completely afresh. A good first point would be to start teaching kids to read phonetically.
This commenter doesn’t think about the process involved in training and, more importantly, retaining teachers. In his/her mind they can all be easily replaced. Presumably this commenter would just as well employ unqualified teaching assistants as teachers. As I mentioned, one of the biggest problems for the education sector is the retention of teaching staff. Many newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) leave the profession in the first year. But this fact appears to have passed the Tories by.
Not only are the days long gone when teachers could consider themselves particularly poorly paid, they still have greater job security and longer holidays than most. High investment in education over many years has seen salaries rise – and rightly so, since attracting and rewarding good teachers is important for the country. But equally, many children are leaving school without even the basic standards of literacy and numeracy, shortcomings for which the profession must take a large share of the blame. Strike action will hardly help matters: it will be damaging to the children and deeply inconvenient for parents, who will have to organise
child care or take time off work.
This idea that teachers have “longer holidays than most” simply isn’t true. During those supposed holidays, most teachers are marking, researching or preparing lessons. Then there’s the stress, the pushy or aggressive parents that need to be dealt with. The endless paperwork. The form-filling. The long hours.
There is a notion in ciculation that the state school system is inherently left-wing and damaging the minds of the nation’s children and,on the other hand there is another that supposes that teachers and other public sector workers are a drain on the nation’s life-force. This image has been partly concocted by the Tories’ allies in the media to create a new Other; a new enemy within for our times.  Public sector workers are variously portrayed in the right wing press as bloodsuckers and greedy bastards. They are seen as the ones who are the obstacle to the nation’s economic recovery. In the Tory imagination, society is represented as an upside down pyramid: the most powerful are at the bottom while the rest of us are on the top, pushing down, oppressing the millionaires and billionaires. It’s a Randist fantasy.
 Good night, everyone!
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Filed under Big Society, Conservative Party, Government & politics, Journalism, Media, Tory press

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