Shortly before Michael Gove organised a strike for journalists in Dundee, I crossed a school picket line with my mum, a teacher at my local school (Nairn Academy). She was a member of a teaching union, the PAT, that didn’t believe in strikes, so when the school closed the two of us went in. It was a perfectly friendly affair: my teachers (and her colleagues) were at the gate, with no one else around. One of her colleagues handed her a leaflet and we went on inside. We never discussed politics at home, and I still have no idea what my mum thought about Thatcher (it was 1985). But then, she and thousands of teachers like her took the basic view that kids should not be dragged into disputes between adults. I didn’t think much of it then, but looking back now, understanding the pressures teachers must have been under, it was quite something.
Gove is today calling for parents to cross picket lines and keep schools open today; and I wonder how many will do so. You get far nastier picket lines out there than the Highland division of the EIS. The NUT’s leader, Christine Blower, uses bullying as a key tactic. The Spectator revealed last year that the NUT threaten schools thinking about opting for Academy status. And while the percentage opting for the strikes was significant, the turnout was 40 per cent. When you count all of the membership, just 37 per cent of the NUT members have opted for this strike, and 29 per cent of the ATL union has. This is not a nation ablaze with anger.
The unions have chosen very weak ground. They scarcely have the support of their own members, let alone the rest of the public.