Most Labour Party members have a similar view to me, in that they support unions but don’t support strikes. That’s not to say that strikes should never happen, just that we regard it as a failure of both sides when they do.
However, there comes a time when the sheer provocation of this Tory-led government towards the unions effectively forces us to be vocal and to stick up for our friends in the same way as they stick up for us.
We’ve had Vince cable threatening the unions with laws to weaken their powers, when in fact if their powers were reduced anymore then strikes will be made illegal in practice, even if they remain legal in theory.
Michael Gove, on The Andrew Marr Show, said that teachers risk their reputations by going on strike. He said:
Andrew Marr Show
“The reputation of teachers is not as high as it should be. They do an amazing job, but in other countries teaching is a high prestige profession. In recent years we’ve been moving in that direction. I think more and more respect has been accorded to teachers. But I do worry that taking industrial action, being on the picket line, being involved in this sort of militancy will actually mean that the respect that teachers should be held will be taken back a bit.”
Thanks, Michael, but my sister’s a teacher. Are you calling her a militant? She’s paid into her pension for twenty five years and is now being told that the agreement made at the start of her career is now to be torn up. She is rightly furious. Are you saying that her professional reputation should be damaged due to the fact that she has an objection to this?
He then went on to agree with Vince Cable’s previous provocation.
“I think legislation has to be kept under review. I think the person who put it best was Vince Cable, when he went to the GMB. Now nobody can accuse Vince of being Norman Tebbit’s younger brother, but Vince is perfectly clear. If the public are inconvenienced, then the demand from the public will be for some sort of change whether it is in the law or whatever in order to ensure that we don’t have militancy.”
When it comes to the teachers, I think that Michael Gove is hopelessly off course. Parents have a relationship with their child’s teacher. Seeing that teacher being treated unfairly is hardly going to cause parents to turn against them.
Nor for that matter are parents going to act as strike breakers by going into schools and ensuring that they carry on running, which is what Mr Gove proposed in a letter the other day, before trying to backtrack on the Marr show. It would be naive to imagine that any parent would be willing to damage their relationship with their child’s teacher, but maybe Mr Gove hasn’t considered something as obvious as that.
When it comes to pensions of teachers and other public sector workers, there is an issue of life longetivety that needs to be addressed, but probably should not be applied to people who are due to retire in the next few years and haven’t had time to rework their plans.
As Ed Balls said, the government want to create a strike because they think it will make them look strong. I think Ed Balls is correct in his analysis, but the government are incorrect in theirs.
This is not the 1980s. Unions are not an out of control force for malice, taking on governments out of contempt for their democratic mandate. Our unions are some of the most co-operative and reasonable in the world. But the government wish them to be something else. They want them to be on strike. They want confrontation because they think it makes them look strong, when in fact it demonstrates their weakness, because confrontation is not an end in itself.
The government should stick to the dialogue and listen to their concerns. The threats, insults and disdain that the Tories want to express achieve nothing other than to cause people to be more sympathetic to the employees in this situation.
I advise Michael Gove and Vince Cable to grow up, sit down, and talk.