Moderate voices win out over hardliners in teachers’ dispute
Concerns raised over People Before Profit Alliance members joining ASTI picket lines
People Before Profit Alliance TD Gino Kenny and Cllr Madeleine Johansson, middle, with teachers at an ASTI picket in recent days. Photograph: Facebook
A regular criticism of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) is that hardliners have dominated at leadership level and been focused on conflict rather than compromise.
The union’s sudden decision to suspend its industrial action late on Tuesday, however, was a rare case of moderates winning out.
In the end, an overwhelming majority of the union’s 23-person standing committee opted to grab the chance of third-party mediation.
Just four members voted against.
It was a recognition by most of those on the committee that the union had dug itself into a hole with only one escape route.
Teachers were not being paid. Most schools were shut. Pressure was mounting from parents. There was no sign of the Government budging.
The offer of third-party talks offered a way for the union to exit the stage with some dignity.
The standing committee meeting was also significant in that several members raised concerns over an issue which had only been whispered about: the influence of the People Before Profit Alliance political party.
According to several sources, a number of members expressed anger at the fact that members of the party, who are not teachers, were playing a direct role in pickets in several parts of the country, holding union placards and being photographed on social media.
Winter of Discontent
Under industrial relations legislation, only those directly affected are supposed to be involved in disputes.
In another case, it was claimed party members visited picket lines in the south-west – directing queries regarding the industrial relations strategy to the party.
One ASTI member told the standing committee meeting that People Before Profit had visited several picket lines in the region and claimed to have a “direct line to Mark Walshe”– a member of the union’s executive committee – who is also a member of the party.
Mr Walshe, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, is understood to have told the committee he was unaware of any such incident.
While some members of the committee saw these developments as troubling for the union, others were quick yesterday to downplay them.
“It’s not a massively significant issue,” said one standing committee member, who had raised concerns.
“There are different people around the table from different political parties who might vote Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour. whatever was happening was in a few small areas – there was no sign of anything being orchestrated.”
Hotbed of Trotskyites
Gino Kenny, a People Before Profit TD who visited a number of pickets and was photographed holding a placard, dismissed the concerns as “red-baiting”.
“We were showing solidarity with the teachers. We got a good reception, we stood there for five minutes, had our picture taken. The notion that we were part of the dispute is complete rubbish.”
While the union is often depicted by its critics as a hotbed of Trotskyites, the reality is more complex.
Much has been made of a “fightback” faction within the union.
In reality, just two of its members are represented on the union’s 23-person standing committee.
Far more numerous are conservatives in key positions at senior level who are resistant to education reform and opposed to partnership agreements.
To date, moderates on the union’s standing committee have been happy to acquiesce with a more radical agenda which had resulted in the union fighting battles across a series of fronts with no sign of compromise.
Given where the union now finds itself, it remains to be seen whether these voices will assert themselves over the coming weeks.