"Houston, we have a problem"

Please note: the ATL website is no longer being updated and will be taken down soon.

Visit the new NEU website

22 November 2017 by Stevie Cooke - Admin
National Education Union member Hank Roberts discusses the issues facing the union movement.

"As they said in Apollo 13 “Houston, we have a problem”. We have a problem and it is massive. TUC membership has halved. 270,000 members were lost last year. We need to fundamentally change. We need to consider absolutely all and every idea. Business as usual cannot be an option. What we do tomorrow, next week, next year is important but the long-term strategy is most important.

Over 20 years ago, I looked nationally at the trade union organisation for just teachers. One main union in Scotland. Sensible. Five main unions in the rest of the UK. Ludicrous. I and others across the unions formed an organisation to fight for unity. 20 years later we have four. At this rate, it would take 60 years to get to one. If you want one union for the whole of the education sector, which I think is logical and would maximise our strength with around a million members, at this rate it would take over 100 years. 

Being divided does not help us; it only helps the Government. We have so much more in common than divides us. Our strategic aim must be to eliminate competitive recruitment. A huge and almost unthinkable task but as Sherlock Holmes said, “Once you have eliminated all the other solutions what remains, however unlikely, is the solution”.

In our dire situation, we cannot afford to spend the time and effort engaged in fighting amongst ourselves. If unity is strength, then disunity is weakness. Our power at work is in our union’s numbers but only if the numbers are in the same workplace or industry. Otherwise it is dissipated.

A Morning Star leaflet I was given said, “Currently workers remain hamstrung by anti-union legislation and a lack of sectorial collective bargaining”. We need to break that anti-union legislation and increase sectorial organisation. From first principles, where workers join a workplace there should be a single natural home for them within a union. If they change jobs they should transfer automatically from one natural home to another.

We must never forget that the Government aim is to destroy trade unionism. Ours is to build maximum unity and the strongest unions to defeat them."