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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, No. 24. October 1, 1968

New union for teachers

New union for teachers

To the casual observer, the choice of the name National Union of Teachers (with the natural abbreviation to NUT) for this organisation would seem to be unfortunate. This is not so in educational circles, however, for the name is borrowed from the world Famous teachers' organisation of the same name in Britain.

The local version first came to public notice in May this year. A group of Auckland teachers organised meetings to sound out the teaching profession and to formulate likely policies. On 26 June a foundation meeting was held in the Auckland Trades Hall, and a university lecturer in Education, Eric Braithwaite, was elected interim President. Since then the union has been registered under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act and branches have been formed in Auckland. Taranaki, Manawatu and Wellington.

The reasons for establishing the union are many, but all point to dissatisfaction with the existing conditions in education today, and a despair of ever achieveing real progress within the present framework of teachers' organisations and conservative government. The "Draft Policy Platform" cites the Labour Government's reforms of the health services in the mid-1930's as the type of revolutionary measures "urgently required to transform the Education Services so as to meet the needs of the second half of the twentieth century." The NUT has accordingly listed at least 24 specific proposals which it sees as the basis of bringing education in this country up to date. Most farreaching would seem to be the establishment of an Education Commission designed to take the organisation and administration of all schools (from kindergarten to university) out of the "arena ol party political manoeuvre and electioneering stunt." Others, more immediately practicable, centre around working conditions, classroom sizes, and the general improvement of facilities in schools.

Supporters of the NUT are highly critical of what they call the Government's "divide-and-rule" policy. This refers to the way a government can exploit the divisions between groups of people working in the same field: in this case the various organisations serving primary, secondary, technical and university teachers. The point they make is that with a membership of some 25,000 teachers, the NUT would be in a strong position to put pressure on Government, including if necessary, all the traditional methods used by trade unions. A unified front could agree on the priorities in education and insist that these be implemented.

It is obvious that the New Zealand Educational Institute (primary teachers' professional body) is greatly concerned about this union movement, in fact alarmed, it one is lo judge by the amount they have published in their journal National Education in the last three months. The NUT has warranted two sarcastic and far from objective articles and has prompted two further articles that protest (methinks too much) the great victories achieved in the 85 years NZEI has been in existence: example—"sick leave for teachers was gained before 1920." The point is that, to many teachers, and especially to the younger ones, the NZEI projects an image of stuffiness, of conservatism, and of an excessive attachment with the past. Young people faced with a classroom of children are not interested in how their educational forefathers tamed the colonial wilds and created this happy welfare state; they want immediate practical improvements. It cannot be disputed that advances have been made since 1883, but which ones are due lo the efforts of the NZEI and which ones would have occurred anyway, is a matter for conjecture.

A criticism of NUT that may have some weight is that far from achieving its avowed aim of unity in the teaching profession, the NUT will only serve to divide teachers by creating another body that could never hope to have the support of all teachers, or even a substantial majority of them. Without numerical strength a union cannot expect its sanctions to be effective. Although the NUT says it can exist happily alongside NZEI. and that members are free to have dual membership. NZEI obviously doesn't take the same view. In fact, soon after the Not was registered, the NZEI declared that NIT was a break-away group, and thus forestalled any possibility of affiliation with the Federation of Labour.

Whatever the future of the National Union of Teachers, the controversy aroused by its formation should be beneficial in that it is forcing the existing bodies to answer criticism and thus to undergo some sort of reappraisal of their aims and their success or failure in achieving these aims. It may also encourage more young teachers to take an active part in running their own affairs instead of sitting back and leaving it to their more elderly colleagues and headmasters.

—Philip Gould