Post-conference hangover for teachers

The Easter holiday is over: now it’s time for some hard decisions

Awaiting a session at the ASTI annual convention in  Wexford. “More tough choices for teachers. There was no appetite for industrial action when the ballots were cast for Croke Park 1, but at conferences this week there was a sense that many teachers have reached the end of their rope.” Photograph: Patrick Browne

Awaiting a session at the ASTI annual convention in Wexford. “More tough choices for teachers. There was no appetite for industrial action when the ballots were cast for Croke Park 1, but at conferences this week there was a sense that many teachers have reached the end of their rope.” Photograph: Patrick Browne

Sat, Apr 6, 2013, 06:00

Usually, after an Easter week in the spotlight, teachers go back to the classroom and get on with the quiet job of seeing out the summer term. However, there’s no gentle slope to summer for the teaching corps this year.

Teachers now have some very difficult decisions to make. First, how to vote on Croke Park II next week? It has already been rejected by the TUI. If the other two unions (the INTO and ASTI) follow suit it will bring the house down.

If the deal does fall the Government has threatened to take Croke Park 1 off the table, the only thing standing between public service workers and enforced pay cuts and redundancies.

If (a big if) Croke Park 1 is dismantled and pay cuts imposed it will leave unions with little choice but to ballot for strike action. More tough choices for teachers. There was no appetite for industrial action when the ballots were cast for Croke Park 1, but at conferences this week there was a sense that many teachers have reached the end of their rope.

When it comes to industrial action, teachers are the only show in town. Other frontline public servants like gardaí and nurses either can’t strike or are very unlikely to.

Backroom workers could down tools but the public won’t feel it in the same way. Teachers are one of the few groups who can really put a spanner in the works of daily living without putting anyone’s life at risk.

Their unions are crossing their fingers that teachers will come out in force next week to return a strong vote in one direction or the other. A low turnout or a weak Yes would create divisions within the teacher groups that would make life very uncomfortable for union bosses.

Another doomsday scenario sees the LRC proposals (Croke Park II) carried by the public service unions broadly but voted down by ASTI and the TUI. Both have sworn this week not to be dictated to by the decision of the public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. If these two act unilaterally to reject Croke Park II it will mean a fissure in the public service unions and a real headache for congress.

Teachers waking up in their own beds this morning after their week at conference will be conscious the choice they make next week could be a first step towards union turmoil and, ultimately, the picket line.