Letter to our TU Group from a teacher.
On 16th January the National Education Union (NEU) announced the results of the ballot held in England and Wales. The teacher turnout was 53.3%, 90.4% voting in favour of industrial action. Seven dates for strike action were announced by the Union, and as there was no offer on pay or funding increases from the government, the industrial action went ahead, affecting individual schools for up to four of these strike days.
Unfortunately, the ballot of the other main teaching union, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) did not reach the 50% required turnout, and neither did the ballot of NEU support staff.
In the school where I work, a comprehensive secondary school in the Midlands, membership of the two unions is split fairly evenly. Through conversations over the years, and especially those in the weeks building up to the strikes, I got to know which union teachers were in. Many of them had never taken industrial action before, some of them didn’t realise how it worked, and many asked me questions of what was expected of teachers who were in the NEU, on the strike days.
I’m very pleased to say that a large majority of NEU teachers in our school refused to cross the picket line. I’m even happier to say that of these another large majority attended the four picket lines that we set up outside of the school gates. The feeling of solidarity was beautiful and every member that refused to cross the picket line can be proud of themselves.
Unfortunately, there was a minority of our teacher members who scabbed every single strike day. As our picket started early, these people could not avoid driving past their fellow workers and into the school. On the day of the first strike the scabs got off lightly. Some of them waved or even had the audacity to beep the horn while driving past teachers who were willing to make the sacrifice for a pay increase and proper funding for education. And, given that many of the strikers were inexperienced on the picket line, the smiles and waves were returned.
This contrasts hugely with the 4th strike day. This time, the scabs knew better than to beep their horns. Some of them were still stupid enough to wave and smile, but these were not returned by the people of integrity, the striking workers. Instead of smiles and whistles the scabs were greeted by looks of pure disgust and shakes of the head. The mood on the picket line had changed. It had turned to anger. Why should the striking teachers show any respect to selfish colleagues when they had attempted to undermine the action that we had taken? The pickets were showing some hatred and anger for the choices the scabs were making.
And they are right to feel this way.
When a scab from the same union as you crosses a picket line, they are making their views clear. They are happy to take any pay increases that are achieved by industrial action – just so long as they don’t have to lose a day’s pay. It’s fine for the strikers to make a sacrifice, but not the scabs. They think that they are from a different class, a higher class, a class that behaves like leeches, sucking the blood from the organised striking workers, a class that wears “Never Kissed a Tory“ badges, but when it comes to the crunch, a class that is prepared to sell their own colleagues out, literally, for a day’s pay. And, the thing is, they are not from a different class. They are from the working class. They don’t own the classroom. They don’t control the education system. They are workers, albeit scabs. They are paid for their labour. All they can realistically do to change anything for the better is to join the picket line, not cross it! To do anything else is to betray their colleagues and therefore their class.
So, scab behaviour can be described no better than class betrayal, and those who betray their class can be described no more appropriately than class traitors. This may seem like archaic language, needlessly divisive, and unwilling to consider personal circumstances, but crossing a picket line is a serious matter. Ask any of the teachers on the picket lines up and down the country – they will tell you that crossing a picket line is a strong and intentional action, and strong intentional actions can only be described by strong and intentional language.
If you made the choice to be a scab This is why people looked at you with extreme disappointment perhaps you felt hatred in the eyes of those you betrayed? You should have done. This could be why people don’t speak to you at work anymore. This could be why you can’t find your old friend who you used to enjoy a lunchtime coffee with. This is why the other teacher now chooses to stand as far away as possible from you during your break time duties. They don’t want to talk to you. They don’t want to be seen talking to you, because they know, and everybody else knows, you’re a scab. If people speak about you anymore, it is entirely negative. Why? Because of a choice that you made and you have to live with the consequences that you, and nobody else created. So don’t be surprised that people have gone off you. The fault for this is yours only.
If the government refuses to considerably improve their recent offer of a pitiful 4.3% increase (at a time when inflation on basic commodities is running at 17%), there will be more teacher strikes. Two dates that have been announced by the NEU are the 27th of April and the 2nd of May. If you’re a teacher and have so far not stood in solidarity with your colleagues because you are in a different union, now is your chance. Join the NEU, which takes 3 minutes online, and find out the details of the picket lines from your rep or other members.
• If you are one of the scabs that most of this article has focused on – NEU teachers who crossed the picket line – we are a very forgiving lot, so this time don’t cross the picket line, join it!
And remember, nobody likes a scab.