30 June Teachers Strikes- a diatribe

buy your teacher Citizen Smith
it will teach them how to strike

So tomorrow the aptly named NUT are taking strike action. The teachers’ unions are campaigning against changes to their pensions which they say will mean working longer, paying more and getting less when they retire.

If you want to cut to the chase and here me rant full on, just click on the RANT link, otherwise you can read the background to my peevish state of mind. Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of bed this morning.

As a private sector worker, who has survived the recession with my job intact I find the main reason stated above for the strike baffling: I don’t have an employer provided pension. If I want anything in excess of the state pension (if there is still one in 30 years time!), I have to fund that myself. I already lost out when Equitable Life went under, so that set me back a years worth of contributions before I’d even really started.

I’m a qualified chartered accountant working in practice with 10 years post qualification experience. My colleague’s wife is head of year at a primary school. That’s head of year, not head, not deputy head. She gets paid roughly what I do. In the summer she spends a month at the seaside with her kids and parents. I work in a non unionised profession that doesn’t strike. A profession that has a history of long working hours. 50 hour weeks aren’t unusual and there have been occasions where I’ve been at my desk at 2am, or for the majority of the weekend. I don’t complain, it was my choice.

But it’s not really the issue of the pensions that’s got my goat up. Pensions are part of the overall package that teachers get:

  • good (better than average) job security- how many headlines about mass redundancies in the teaching profession have you seen during the recession?
  • reasonable working days- our local primary is dark and locked up when I leave for work and dark and locked up when I get home in the evening.
  • an employer contributed pension- wow, in all the jobs I’ve had there’s never been a sniff of one of these.
  • long holidays- whilst teachers do obviously do lesson prep and admin during some of the school holidays, they still get massively more than most. Currently a quarter of my holiday is allocated to school things like daytime parent evenings (an oxymoron if ever there was one)!
  • a fair salary. I’m not going to say it’s a great or even good salary, teaching obviously has it’s skills and it’s challenges but in context it’s not unreasonable in my opinion.
So what really gets my goat in a climate where we’re all having to watch our backs with the spectre of unemployment continuing to hang over us, and our schools increasingly switching year inductions, parent evenings and everything else that has traditionally been held outside office hours, into the working day, the teachers are costing us another day of annual leave and apparently most of them can’t even be bothered to attend marches or picket the school from what I’ve personally heard.
you apparently wont see many picket lines,
particularly in St Albans
In my book if you’re going to strike, you should be on a protest march or standing by a burning brazier waving a placard and chanting slogans, a proper 1970’s Citizen Smith style protest. You shouldn’t be proudly telling people that you intend to spend the day at the cinema. Apparently when the Irish teachers went on strike a couple of years ago, there was a perceptible rise in shoppers crossing the border for a day trip (this is anecdotal, someone told me over twitter).  That is not the way to get sympathy for your cause in my opinion!

I’m unconvinced that the need for strike action is so necessary but even taking that a moot point for now and ignoring my opinion on it, the way to gain sympathy for your cause is to do it properly. Not gad about like you’ve got an extra day of holiday. Yes, I know NUT aren’t paying it’s members a basic salary during the strike, so there is a real cost to the time off but the honourable intentions of the ideological few are being drowned out by the cavalier actions of the many.

As a full time working dad I understand that things can be difficult but the way forward isn’t to punish the kids at school and their parents by heading off to the cinema to watch Transformers 3.