27th October rally a missed opportunity Threat of Garda dispute won huge gains Strategy to achieve Pay Equalisation urgently needed

I wrote this article in the immediate aftermath of the INTO/TUI Pay Equalisation Rally.  Since then the gains won by the threat of strike action by gardaí have effectively torn up the Lansdowne Road Agreement.  The formulation of a strategy for gaining full Pay Equalisation and Restoration has just got more urgent.

Approximately 1,500 teachers – mostly members of INTO with a small number of TUI members – attended the Pay Equalisation rally outside the Dáil on 27th October.  It was great to see such support for LPTs, but how many people left that Rally feeling energised, empowered and with a feeling that our unions are ready for the next stage of the battle for Pay Equalisation??

The answer is very few indeed.  In fact most people left with the feeling that in holding the rally the union leadership were mainly just going through the motions, holding a rally so that they could say they held one, and treating the members of the union as extras to turn up, wave flags for half an hour and go home again,

Where were the plans for what is going to happen next?  Where was the outline of the next phase of the campaign?  Where was the ‘ask’ of union members – the tasks they should have been asked to do to step up the fight?  Other than asking attendees to turn towards the Dáil and chant a slogan or two, what did our union leadership ask us to do in the coming weeks and months??……

Dual Purpose

A rally such as that held outside the Dáil has a dual purpose.  By bringing large numbers of people together we demonstrate to the government that we are capable of mobilising large numbers against them and in support of our demands.  We give them the message that they will have to meet our demands or we are capable of stepping up our protests.  But also – and just as importantly – its purpose is to Educate, Agitate and Organise.  People should go home from it more informed, more ‘agitated’ (ie with more motivation/ fire in their belly) and more organised (ie with a plan as to how each of them will contribute to the campaign over the next few weeks and months).

On both of these fronts – warning the government and motivating the membership – the Rally failed miserably.  In relation to the first of these, the failure to even acknowledge the fact that our ASTI colleagues had just spent the day on the picketlines in pursuit of the same goal of Pay Equalisation was shocking.  We don’t have to agree with the ASTI tactics or strategy (which I do!) to realise that basic trade union solidarity should have ensured that we acknowledged their stance and gave them a shout-out of support!

Failure to acknowledge ASTI, however, demonstrated an even more fundamental flaw in our strategy.  Does anyone seriously believe that the progress (limited as it is) that has been made by INTO and TUI on the pay equalisation issue would have been achieved if ASTI was also inside the confines of the Lansdowne Road Agreement?  Without doubt the talks that have thus far taken place on pay equalisation had as one of their prime motivations attempts to isolate ASTI and force ASTI members into LRA…..

Rushed ballot

INTO members, by contrast to ASTI, were first to sign up to LRA following a rushed ballot in June 2015 – a ballot in which, in common with many recent ballots in INTO, information presented was one-sided and not always correct (For example, ‘gains’ presented for LPTs included gains already available in HRA).  There was huge pressure placed on members to vote Yes, with a barrage of leaflets, texts and emails coming from head office.

By remaining outside LRA and by being willing to take action for immediate Full Pay Equalisation, ASTI have done us a huge favour.  If all 3 unions were inside LRA, why would the government be making any concessions?  On the other hand, of course, if we were all outside it and were all taking the brave stance of ASTI wouldn’t the government have to concede even more??  So at the very least at the 27th October Rally we should have acknowledged the contribution of ASTI and should have warned the government that unless they want to see us leave the LRA and join with our colleagues on the picketlines an immediate timeline for full pay equalisation and restoration must be given.

Instead, a government member looking at our rally would have drawn the conclusion that we posed no threat.  And a union that poses no threat will receive very little in negotiations…

Educate, Agitate, Organise

This leads me to the second point.  The other reason for holding a Rally is to Educate, Agitate and Organise the membership.  If you see the union members as a group of people who have a contribution to make to building a campaign that is… But more and more it seems that our union leaders see the members as consumers, as people who should be looking to ‘the union’ to deliver a service.  They see us as people who can be called on to send emails to government before the budget, to turn up and wave flags at the odd rally…  They are content enough with a relatively passive membership who they can ‘represent’.

My vision of trade unionism, however, is one in which the members are the union, and the role of the leadership should be to motivate and organise us, to facilitate us in using the union structures to campaign on issues that affect us.  In relation to Pay Equalisation, and in particular in relation to the Rally, the very least that should have happened is that people who were there should have been encouraged to go home from it seeing themselves as Organisers of the next phase of the campaign – in their own schools and staffrooms, in their own branches and districts.

1,500 people at the Rally was impressive enough but we have a membership in the greater Dublin and Leinster area of over 14,000 (plus students) so there were clearly a lot of members not there.  We should have been asking everyone going away from the rally to see themselves as key organisers and motivators of fellow staff members, to talk about the issue in staffrooms, to engage in debate at their local branches……

Debate and Strategy

Because we do need a debate about how Pay Equalisation is going to be achieved, and a strategy to achieve it.  The union leadership are content enough with slow incremental progress, with moving towards Equalisation.  But they do not have any strategy for where we go next.  Others argue that given the changed circumstances, and in particular given the stance of the ASTI, we should be holding a ballot on whether to withdraw from LRA.

In a leaflet distributed at the Rally, I called for

  • “ Pay restoration promised in LRA should be brought forward and paid immediately
  • INTO should demand immediate talks with government for a new deal to replace the LRA with a deal that gives:

– full pay equalisation

– full pay restoration

– the payment of money owed to us such as the Principals’ benchmarking award

– return to the ONE 2010 pay scale

– back pay owed to post 2012 graduates due to their qualification allowance cuts”

I outlined what I thought union members should do –

“To achieve those demands we each need to

  • Contact CEC reps and the union leadership with this demand
  • Contact our branch secretaries and ask that this demand be discussed at the next branch committee meeting and be forwarded to CEC and head office
  • Start now to build momentum behind this demand for January AGMs and towards Congress 2017
  • Use social media and other fora to make the case for these demands”

And I pointed out that “In both of the last paydeals the government looked for early talks because they wanted to impose more cuts.  We don’t need to wait for end of LRA to demand talks.”

Options

So there are 3 options

Continue with the CEC strategy (although what plans they have to move things along are rather vague)

Look for a ballot to withdraw from LRA

Demand that pay restoration elements in LRA are fast-tracked and that new talks begin on a deal to replace it

What is clear is that a discussion on our strategy needs to happen immediately.   It should be led by the CEC and full-time officials, but it won’t be.  They went through the motions and held the rally, they’ve ticked the box and hope that the ticked box will be sufficient to keep us quiet for now.  So it is up to every one of us to initiate the discussion – In your staffroom ask your colleagues what they think.  If you’re on a branch committee raise it at the next meeting.  If you’re not, why not get your staff (or as many of them as will do so) to write to your branch secretary asking that the issue be discussed. Similarly write to your CEC rep and to the general secretary.

We, the members, have to take control of the discussion and of the campaign.  We have to assert that the INTO is our union and we have to use its structures to fight on our behalf and on behalf of our lesser paid colleagues.

Gregor Kerr  

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