It’s an honour and a privilege to address the EIS AGM for the very first time as General Secretary.
I’ve been in many situations this past year that I’d never in my life expected to find myself… but this today definitely tops them all. The honour of my life.
The past year has been a trial by fire. A true test of the collective strength, solidarity and courage of the EIS and its members. And it’s a trial…a test…that we’ve come through with flying colours- that vibrant pink and green of the Pay Attention campaign!
As activists you’ve agitated, organised, educated and energised out of your skins. Picket lines, placards and campaign parties – you did it all. And you did it with humour and gusto and style.
At rallies, on the telly and on the radio, you brilliantly articulated the rightness and justness of the teachers’ pay claim – never flustered by an awkward question, never being backed into a corner, never losing your cool…always professional.
And by telling it like it was, with honesty and integrity and conviction, you won over the public, you won over the parents, and you won over the presenters on the BBC and on STV and even Sky and GB News.
There were those that doubted us. Those that hoped, even predicted, that EIS members wouldn’t turn out in their tens of thousands to vote yes to strike in the Autumn months in our consultative ballot and then the clincher – our statutory ballot. But we were ballot ready, organised, and they were wrong!
You stood proudly, bravely, shoulder to shoulder with your colleagues – teachers, IMTS, Educational Psychologists…all taking action together when the time came for the very first day of strike action over pay in 40 years!
The first ever strike action over teachers’ pay in Scotland since that historic trade union tug of war with Thatcher. That tug of war that we won and that we still remember and celebrate.
Right from the outset of this Campaign, we’ve had to dig deep, and fight a battle that we shouldn’t have had to fight in the first place. Fair pay should be a given in a fair work nation.
For five months…five months…COSLA and the Scottish Government dangled an offer of 5% in front of teachers. They dressed it up a wee bit differently the second time it came in…dressed it up as an emperor’s new clothes of an offer – hoping that would fob us off, wear us down and loosen our resolve.
And when the emperor’s new clothes and the smoke and mirrors didn’t work, they tried shaming teachers. Implied that teachers were being greedy, they were overclaiming.
They tried that age-old tactic of divide and conquer – of looking to play one group of workers off against another. That’s a tactic that’s founded on fear- fear of the solidarity amongst trade unionists that transcends union boundaries.
Trade unionists don’t resent one another’s wins – we celebrate them. We know that an injury to one is an injury to all. We know that unity is our greatest strength.
The EIS does the democratic bidding of our members – not what happens to suit COSLA and the Scottish Government or anyone else.
It was our democratic decision-making that led to the targeted strikes in key constituencies. Full credit to the members in Glasgow Southside, Perth and Kinross (North), Dunfermline and Clydebank – Milngavie for carrying out those three extra days of action after the 16 days of rolling strikes across all 32 local authorities.
Those three days really turned the screws on the key decision-makers, shone a harsh spotlight on their dither and delay, their selective use of statistics and their spin, and the glaring gap between their rhetoric of Fair Work and the reality of their refusal to pay teachers fairly for the essential work that they do.
Without a doubt, it was the threat of another three days of those targeted strikes, including in a key Dumfries and Galloway constituency, that brought the Deputy First Minster to the table… finally with the money.
When it came to the ballot, 90% of members agreed that the offer was worth accepting- still a real terms pay cut but a decent offer in the circumstances and one that gave us a stepping stone on our undifferentiated pay restoration journey.
And we will continue that journey. Six months from now, we’ll be submitting our next pay claim.
From now until then we’ll be keeping an eye on the lie of the land, building our narrative, strengthening the alliances that we’ve already built, and looking to build new ones.
And the other thing that we’ll be doing is blasting the Scottish Government and anyone else who tries to blame teachers and the teachers’ pay deal for any disgraceful decisions that they make to cut the funding to FE and HE, or to roll back on commitments to free school meals expansion, or to stop funding for Masters’ Level learning programmes for teachers. Teachers’ pay should
have nothing to do with any of these things. Education must be properly funded and that includes paying the people who deliver it properly.
We made some good ground in the Pay Attention campaign. We keep our eyes on the pay restoration prize and we stay campaign- strong. Because we know the value of teachers in delivering quality education for our children and young people. We know the value of education as a social good. That’s why at this AGM we’ll be launching a new national campaign for proper funding for education as a vital and valuable public service.
We’ll be using every ounce of that very well-toned campaigning muscle as we pivot to tackle the scandalous underfunding of ASN, your crippling workload, the boundless bureaucracy that swallows up your time, and the health and safety risks that are intensifying daily amidst large class sizes and lack of additional support, including for mental health, in the aftermath of the pandemic and a decade of austerity before that.
Colleagues, an increase in violent incidents and distressed behaviour are the consequence of not listening to the voices of teachers as they’ve called for more support for children and young people whose mental health is fragile… and as the EIS and others have called for more support for teachers and other school staff whose wellbeing continues to take a battering as schools struggle with Covid recovery.
We’ve seen teacher numbers fall overall for the first time in five years. This is despite the manifesto promise of class contact reduction and the promise of additional teachers. The recent Scottish Government commitment to protect teacher numbers is absolutely essential and they need to stick to it.
Smaller class sizes must still be in our sights. In schools all over the country, teachers continue to drown in paperwork that contributes nothing to the quality of learning and teaching in their classrooms, and yet dysfunctional behaviours driven by hierarchy and accountability agendas continue to demand it.
We need real, honest reform that finally gives us a qualifications body that serves the needs of learners and the teachers and lecturers who support them. That’s why we’ve pushed and pushed and pushed over the past year’s work on education reform for the EIS to be at the table on behalf of our members. And we’ve succeeded.
It’s safe to say, colleagues, that all through the Pay Attention campaign and even since the pay deal was signed, the EIS hasn’t stopped. Our staff haven’t stopped. They’ve barely paused for breath.
They’ve continued their phenomenal effort and commitment on behalf of members, everywhere in the organisation.
As General Secretary, I’ve seen more of that work first hand and have been massively impressed by my colleagues’ expertise and their willingness to help one another as they look to deliver what our members need. They are the bee’s best knees, in my book.
We’ve played our part in fighting against the Tories’ disgraceful anti-strike legislation. This anti-strike legislation has zero to do with protecting public services and everything to do with a right-wing government led by millionaires attacking the rights of working people to act collectively. The EIS will continue the fight to protect our right – our workers’ right, our human right, to strike.
Because history – and our very recent history at that – has taught us over and over that our right to take strike action is what delivers the outcomes that our members need as workers, as citizens and as human beings.
And it’s part of our continuing fight-back against poverty and against the neoliberal ideology that’s founded on the belief that profit is prioritised above people. An ideology whose toxicity seeps right into our public service provision here in Scotland – including into education across all sectors. An ideology and an associated economy that sees ordinary people, ordinary workers, be the collateral damage in the race to amass billions in wealth for a privileged few who’re already drowning in money that they can’t and largely don’t spend in our economy.
That thousands of children are going to school across Scotland, not only hungry but malnourished in the truest medical sense of the word, is frankly immoral – and it’s utterly unacceptable. That’s why the EIS has partnered so strongly with the STUC Women’s Committee on its Food for Thought campaign- supported by the full STUC.
The EIS will continue campaigning until every single child from Primary 1 to Sixth Year has the daily dignity and the health and wellbeing and the social benefits of a meal at school that’s free of cost and free of stigma.
If we don’t, we’ll see more hunger and food insecurity, more health inequalities, more mental health anguish, more poverty and poverty-related stigma across our society and in our education establishments and that’ll amount to poorer experiences and outcomes and fewer life chances for the poorest of our young citizens.
We need to keep fighting together for decent public services, including education, and decent public sector pay and conditions as part of that. We need to see more walking the walk on equity, fair work and on social justice and equality when it comes to support for education from our government and employers.
The working conditions of our teachers and lecturers are the learning conditions of our children, young people and students. We need both to be much, much better. And we’ll continue to fight for that as a union. A union that continues to grow even stronger for sound education.
As for me…I’ll get on with my bit of it. And every single day will be an honour. This is an edited extract of the General Secretary’s speech. Full text available at www.eis.org.uk