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Should Teachers Strike?

Should teachers strike?

Ordinarily, we don’t deal with politics on the blog – but then the teacher pension reforms are no ordinary issue.

Much ink has and will be spilled on the rights and wrongs of the pension reforms, so I don’t intend to cover that directly.

More I want to explore should teachers strike period?

Gerard Kelly, Editor of the TES, wrote a typically strident assessment of the situation in the TES a few weeks back which understandably drew a few negative comments.



The TES’ take was that teachers shouldn’t strike because they are middle class. Frankly I’m not sure if class is a helpful issue here, but it does go on to ask an interesting question of whether teachers’ unions are more BMA or RMT. The logic seems to be that white collar professionals like teachers just shouldn’t strike.

But isn’t the question of whether the BMA or RMT strikes much more nuanced than the colour of their collars? Isn’t it more to do with a claculation of the impact of their actions?

For doctors, as for other emergency services, a strike really is a nuclear threat. If you strike people will die. That places a strong incetive on both doctor’s and government to sort out their issues consensually.

For the RMT the issue is different. If you go on strike people will be monumentally inconvenienced, but will be fine tomorrow. Should they wish they can strike in the knowledge that no-one gets hurt. But because it inconveniences so many it’s also an incredibly effective tactic. For themthe costs and benefits point much more in the direction of strike action.

I don’t have the figures but ‘white collar’ journalists in the NUJ don’t see averse to industrial action precisely because their calculus aligns more with the RMT than the BMA.

As does teaching unions – a day’s strike will be inconvenient to parents and students will miss a day’s learning, but no harm will come to them. Comparisons with the BMA seem to come up wanting.

Set an Example to Your Students

When I asked the question on Twitter a few people came back to me saying they wouldn’t be striking as it would set a poor example to their students.

There’s still a quesion there about what kind of example striking is setting to your students in the first place – and that depends on your world view. Either striking is an example of civic action and getting a fair deal for workers or an antidemocratic abuse of one profession’s important role in society.

What Do You Think?

You can probably tell I haven’t made up my mind, but I’d like to know your views? Should teacher’s strike, and why?



5 responses to “Should Teachers Strike?”

  1. Avatar ian kellett says:

    teachers and all public sector workers should learn to take the brunt of the economic situation just like everyone else has to.they get well paid. alot more than me and my wife ! and we dont have pensions… i find it disgusting how much money the unions are making out of holding the goverment to ransom, i hope the goverment dosnt listen ..2 training days at my kids school this week, and then next week they are on strike??!! they should bloody train on that day !!!!

  2. Avatar Julie says:

    putting aside the pension question I would ask that you think about what happened to teaching in the Thatcher years when our conditions of service and our salaries were eroded in comparison to workers in the private sector. People were incredulous when I said I was a teacher and typically said they wouldn’t work for that salary and in those conditions. At that time headteachers struggled to fill even primary teaching vacancies and some counted themselves lucky if anyone applied for their vacancies. Now we get up to 50 applicants for each vacancy.Is worsening conditions of service a good way to attract the best people? You decide

    • Avatar Tom Hesmondhalgh says:

      Well during the Thatcher years I was just a wee lad – and maybe there’s a point there too. I, and people my age, have grown up with a very different view of strikes and the unions generally than those who lived through the Winter of Discontent and Thatcher. I’m not saying that teachers don’t have a right to strike or that a massive real terms pay cut combined with additional pension contributions isn’t something the profession should be angry about. I am interested though in the question of whether teachers should strike period. Certainly my opinion is there’s no point in comparing teaching with other unionised professions to come up with that answer.

  3. Avatar emblebee says:

    I am a 16 year old student currently doing A-levels at school. I have to say that I am outraged by the lack of support for teachers.

    People need to start taking what teachers do seriously. Teachers work damned hard for their money – so do all public sector workers to be fair. I don’t understand how you think teachers have it easy, all you see them doing is standing up in front of the class – but it doesn’t stop there you crazy naive people! – what about the planning for those lessons? what about the marking? what about coursework? what about getting to and from work? what about the teachers who hold extra clubs for your child’s benefit? what about parents evenings? The list could go on, but i’ve made my point clear.

    And as for the amount of holidays haha – actually makes me laugh that people pick on the amount of holidays they get! I don’t even get that amount of time off and i’m a student – my 6 week holiday is usually shortened to at least 3 weeks because of the amount of work i have to do – so if i have all that work to do then i find it hard to believe that my teachers are sat on their backsides doing nothing the whole summer! There’s just no way.

    It’s true to say that teachers should sign up because of passion for teaching, not for the pension, but there has to be a balance! Passion doesn’t pay the bills! I’m not stupid, i do realise the country is in debt – but i think the Government needs to have a hell of a lot more respect for teachers and other public workers.

    Their job hasn’t changed – if anything, it’s gotten harder and more restricted in terms of impossibly high targets, and the amount of kids to teach. So, if their job hasn’t changed, why the hell should they be asked to work longer for less pension?

    I can completely understand why people are striking – if i were them i know for a fact that i wouldn’t let my job security and pension be cut without a fight. They are well within their rights.

    As a student, the pension debate means almost nothing to me because by the time i’m qualified and working there will be no pension. And yes, as a student the strike inconveniences me and my learning, but the Government won’t listen any other way.

    The Government needs to realise that there is no way they can manage without the public sector workers. Yes cuts need to be made, but lets face it, they could just ask a footballer to loan them a couple of million pounds that they won’t miss. Problem solved. Why pick on people who work hard for a living trying to make ends meet to support their family?

    Teachers need more respect – they do an amazing job.

    I do accept the fact that teachers get a good pension in comparison to the majority of people working in this country. But i ask you, why the hell shouldn’t they?! This isn’t the first time their job security and pension has been threatened and it’s not fair on them at all. They are working their arses off to achieve the Governments petty targets, and they are making it near enough impossible for teachers to be passionate about their job – which is something which affects my learning.

    They need to think practically, the majority of them will have families to support. They already work all hours God sends, but now your asking them to do it for less? You try convincing a teacher they earn enough money to not be bothered about a pension – good luck to you.

    There are other ways in reducing the deficit, which, may i add, was not caused by teachers.

    And before all the comments start, no, this is not a bias rant. I’m 16, but am able to form my own opinions, so don’t patronise me. Neither of my parents are teachers or public sector workers – both are strongly opposed to the strikes. Nor have the teachers been influencing my opinions, , – they don’t need to – they have my support.

    I owe everything to those people so more power to them.

  4. Public sector workers as a whole are paying disproportionately for others errors, and clearly are entitled to protest. The strike action has already won concessions to protect the poorest and most vulnerable (people earning under £15,000). Teachers, the unions and everyone else involved should be congratulated and thanked for their support and work leading to protecting vulnerable low paid public sector workers.

    I believe pupils could learn more from the example of their teachers in acting responsibly. I think teachers could be doing more to lead the way in promoting discussion about public sector pay and taking advantage of the learning opportunities it presents and, if necessary, striking. It’s no good pretending teaching isn’t ‘political’, or that it operates outside the real world – or that teachers, like the children we teach, really can make a difference to the world we live in.

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Tom Hesmondhalgh

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