The discourse of government responses to planned industrial action by public sector workers highlights the inconvenience of that action to the rest of the public. The Department for Education‘s response to the planned industrial action by the NUT and ATL on the 30th June is a case in point. A spokesperson said:
“The Government is committed to working openly and constructively with unions to ensure that teachers continue to receive high quality pensions, and that the interests of all professionals are represented fully as pension reform is taken forward.
Lord Hutton has made it clear that there needs to be a balance between a common framework for all schemes and the need for flexibility to take account of specific workforce circumstances, such as those of the teaching workforce.
But we are clear that a strike by teachers will only damage pupils’ learning and inconvenience their busy working parents. The wellbeing and safety of pupils must remain paramount.”
Firstly, teachers are being told that, whatever the outcome of the pension reforms, teachers will be getting a good deal, furthermore they will continue to get a good deal. In other words, teachers are receiving good pensions and will continue to do so. The message is – teachers should stop complaining. Of course, the unions’ story is different. In short, the reasons why they are proposing to walk out on the 30th is because they have calculated that teachers will have to pay £100 or more extra a month in pension contributions, will have to work longer before being able to retire, and, after this, will receive less in their pensions.
Secondly, the DfE statement highlights the balance that needs to be struck, and thus, they are calling on teachers to compromise, given our economically straightened times, thus calling on teachers, and the rest of the public sector, to share the collective burden. Further, by invoking Lord Hutton the Department is highlighting that it is not so much themselves that are proposing these changes, but it is the recommendations of an independent expert. This way, the Department is able to counter accusations that changes to public sector pensions might be politically motivated.
It is the third part of the DfE statement which gets to the point. The damage that striking will do to children, and the inconvenience to hard working parents. This is a divide and rule tactic, although some of those busy parents will also be public sector workers facing the same concerns over their futures as teachers. This final part of the DfE’s response is an emotional plea to teachers in that it implies that teachers will be at fault if children’s education suffers as a result of the strike. However, this plea also highlights the vital importance of teachers (if the absence of teachers for one day damages education, then teachers must, by default, be crucial), and therefore, you have to question the priorities of a society which cannot, or will not ensure a decent pension for its most vital employees.
Francis Maude, Minister of the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has also criticised the proposed industrial action. The Guardian reports him as saying:
“…We very strongly hope that anyone who works in public service will put their own interest and the interest of those they are there to serve ahead of their union leaders.”
which is interesting, suggesting as it does, that the interests of unions are somehow disconnected from their members, and that members of those unions did not vote for industrial action, suggesting that they see their interests as being best expressed by collective action. Again, Maude is appealing to workers’ sense of moral obligation to those they are there to serve. In other words, put aside your own concerns and deliver to the public. But, unless workers have the right to withdraw their labour, they are nothing but serfs, and we live in a feudal age.