Stand Up For Yourselves

The following is the original draft of an opinion piece that was published in TESS

For background it was written on the Sunday before the Independence Referendum – and before so many people decided that a route to maintain their activism was in fact to join a political party.

I am grateful for the honour of being published.

“it’s times like these you learn to live again
it’s times like these you give and give again.”
 
Foo Fighters “Times Like These”
 
 
The recent referendum campaign motivated many people perhaps for the first time, to think about political action and to take part.
 
From posting their thoughts online to posting leaflets through doors, many teachers developed a taste for participation. They have discussed the sort of economy and society they want to see and have translated that into action.
 
Participation has given many teachers huge and positive energy.
 
As a trade union activist I see an irony and an opportunity.
 
The irony is that many of those teachers engaged in shaping the future of Scotland are not involved in defending their own working conditions nor in shaping the future of Scottish education.
 
The referendum saw 97% of Scots registered to vote and turnout [expected to be] well-over 80%. This was down to the idea that this time votes would have an impact; and that the referendum mattered.
 
TESS recently noted that purdah prevented schools from holding referendum-related events for their pupils. In so doing it did a potential disservice both to these young people and to democracy. Schools are seen as essential to developing active citizenship in our pupils. Yet, are our schools and the way that they are run offering teachers the opportunity to develop as active citizens?
 
We need to support and challenge school managers to fulfil their responsibility to operate in a collegiate manner.
 
We will never develop responsible citizenship in pupils let alone the other three capacities, if we do not develop them in teachers too.
 
Teachers themselves however need to challenge where there is a lack of workplace democracy. They must also challenge when professional learning is denied or when bureaucracy gets in the way of learning and teaching. 
 
The opportunity I see is that if teachers become active in their trade union they can do these things and ensure that schools put learning and teaching at the centre of what they do. Teacher action is needed to push for better conditions at a local, national and global level too.
 
The point of a trade union is to take collective action to better the working conditions of their members. Teacher working conditions are pupil learning conditions. Yet neither can improve through teacher apathy. Each trade union can only be as strong as its members allow it to be through their interest and involvement.
 
Those of us active in trade unions have to create opportunities for members to participate. We must also develop member confidence that their involvement will have an impact and that it will matter.
 
This can only come through trade unions themselves educating and activating their members.
 
Too often we have had a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude. It’s been enough to organise an event and assume (or rather hope) that people would come along.
 
It’s no longer enough.
 
We need to find new ways to engage with members and for them to engage with us. This includes the online participation that so many are now involved in. As I argued in TESS before: “If people are spending increasing amounts of their time online, it is into this space that organisations have to move. Failing to do so may mean failing to maintain relevance.”
 
The challenge for us is to strengthen ourselves to defend our conditions of service and to achieve the best for our pupils.
 
To do this trade unions need to create the conditions for members to become active and to ‘give and give again’.

 

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