I just spoke to Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) on how the union is responding to the current political climate. She was speaking to me on an episode of Which Britain, a website run by the Trades Union Congress, created to highlight how Britons are reacting to change.
What is the current political climate and how are people reacting? How are the views of the younger generation changing? How do women feel about Theresa May’s government? It’s all here and you can watch the whole hour-long programme.
Bousted is very clear on why the pressure on teachers is so high. It’s what she calls “the political repression of the state”. It’s because when they have to identify themselves as educators or workers, they will assume certain roles.
In the classroom, for example, when you ask your pupils to identify themselves as socialists, it’s going to change their learning and make teaching more difficult. So the teaching profession is forced to think politically.
For me it’s about meeting the needs of the wider community. Teachers and unions can’t just have a view on what they believe, and the Tories know that we can’t. When we stood up for children in the early years, during the European elections, or in the EU referendum, that was the beginning of many more such principled stances.
The political repression of the state can mean that it’s only right for unions to act in the communities in which they have members. But there is a flip side of this – how the union plays a political role is just as important. One member told me how her union official had taken a stand against fracking when most others would rather deal with money for pensions.
Bousted highlights how the government is in “a full-blown crisis”. Labour’s failure to win an outright majority means it’s less likely to make inroads into the Tories’ majority – and not enough to get a majority of support, too. However, when we meet up in the capital it’s almost impossible to find those MPs who support the new settlement, and she raises the alarm for what the future holds.
Her advice to us? Organise the next election. That’s where the power really lies. At the moment it seems the only voice is the Conservative one and that’s going to be a struggle. But it’s not impossible.
Dawn McAvoy is the host of Which Britain. You can watch the full programme here.