Tuesday, 15 April 2008

On being a NUT!

Next Thursday - 24th April 2008, my teaching union, the NUT, will strike in response to fair pay and working conditions for teachers. For the last three years pay for teachers has not increased with inflation. Teaching Unions have all expressed their concern that, outside of London (where there is a London Pay Scale), it has become increasing impossible for new teachers to the profession to finance their own accommodation and generally make ends meet. It is certainly true that the cost of living has gone through the roof. I am lucky enough to live at home by choice, but doing the sums it becomes quickly apparent that, having been teaching for 4 years, I would not be able to afford the rent and council tax on a local two bedroom flat.

This is all very worrying for teachers, but it is not unique to that profession: nurses, police officers, emergency services staff and many other council workers have suffered the same pay 'cuts' in recent years. Indeed, many of their pay deals have been considerably worse than that of teachers. 

There is something in me that is embarrassed about talking, and striking, about money. Also, the NUT is the only teaching union that has voted to strike so in many schools the staff are divided. All teaching unions have agreed that they will support the strike action; their members will not agree to cover the classes of those who are on strike. This means that schools may be forced to close.

On this occasion I do not think I agree with the reason for the strike. I realize that pay in the teaching profession is not adequate when you consider the cost of the housing market. However, most people starting out in the public sector are in the same position. I will strike next Thursday because there are more important principles at stake. I would, as a union member, want the NUT to come to my aid if I were to need them. Therefore, as in most reciprocal arrangements, I am duty bound to support the union when they ask for a show of unity. Everyone needs working unions to be strong. They play an important role in protecting the most vulnerable workers in our society. Indeed, when I look around the world and recognize areas where workers have no recourse to a professional union, I am deeply critical. 

This Thursday I will be very sad to be on strike. But, for me at least, it will be a day to recognize the importance of ensuring that working people everywhere have a voice. 

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