SCOTLAND’s largest teaching union is considering targeted strike action in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency over the bitter dispute on classroom pay.
Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) general secretary Larry Flanagan told colleagues the union could single out schools in seats held by Sturgeon, Education Secretary John Swinney and Finance chief Derek Mackay..
A series of political strikes would mirror the same union’s tactics in the 1980s, when industrial action was taken in areas represented by Scottish Tory MPs during the Thatcher years.
However, a Scottish Conservative spokesman criticised the EIS: “The real victims of strike action will be the children. It’s extremely worrying to learn of this aggressive and targeted approach.
“Pupils and parents can’t be held responsible for living in these seats, yet they are the ones who stand to lose the most. There will be very little public sympathy with this approach.”
A tripartite body involving unions, council representatives and the Government decides teachers’ pay, but the no agreement has been reached for the current financial year.
Unions want a 10% rise, but the Government has said such an increase is unaffordable and has tabled a 3% offer. An additional £25 million was also offered to reform the main grade scale which, along with the 3% rise, the Government says will give some teachers pay boosts of over 10%.
Around 98% of teachers rejected the 3% offer in a consultative ballot, which followed a rally in Glasgow attended by nearly 30,000 people.
The unions are now gearing up for a strike ballot which could see schools close in every part of the country.
However, at a meeting in Edinburgh last month of the EIS council – a key decision-making body in the union – Flanagan is believed to have said strikes could be directed at the most senior Cabinet Secretaries.
It is understood Flanagan suggested action could be targeted at Sturgeon, Swinney and Mackay, who represent Glasgow Southside, Perthshire North, and Renfrewshire North & West respectively, which would result in schools closing in their own political backyards.
Another potential target is council ward Annandale North, which is represented by Tory councillor Gail Macgregor, who has led on pay for council umbrella group Cosla.
No agreement has been reached on tactics, but the controversial option is on the table.
In practice, it could mean industrial action taking place on a national level, followed by localised strikes in seats held by SNP heavyweights.
A union source said: “It’s about time that Scotland’s teachers take the fight to the very doorstep of our paymasters and politicians. The turnout at the recent demo and in our ballot shows the depth of anger among the membership. After a decade of austerity our members are getting off their knees and saying enough is enough.”
The EIS engaged in a long-running battle with the Conservative Government in the 1980s on pay, which included measures including work to rule, national one-day strikes and targeted action in the constituencies of Tory Ministers.
Flanagan, a former Trotskyist who was in Militant, is considered to be on the Left of his union, but is more moderate than some figures in the organisation.
Although EIS members held anti-Swinney placards at the recent rally, the general secretary has spoken highly of the Education Secretary.
“I think he is very competent,” he said in an interview last year.
Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, said: “No-one wants to see strike action, but it is clear John Swinney needs to come back with a fair deal for Scotland’s teachers.
“It is a sign of how badly the SNP has mishandled this crisis that senior ministers – including Nicola Sturgeon – could face action in their constituencies. The last time that happened Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Education was supposed to be the SNP’s top priority – it’s now its biggest crisis.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Industrial action in any of our schools would not be in the interest of teachers, pupils or parents. That is why we remain committed to engaging positively with the unions and with Cosla to seek to agree a pay deal.”
The EIS declined to comment.
Unions demand pay parity across the public sector
NEGOTIATORS for three other unions who represent local government staff have warned council umbrella group Cosla that industrial action could take place unless their pay offer – 3% for anyone earning less than £80,000 – is improved.
One of the issues that is irritating Unison, GMB and Unite is that teachers, through the extra money to reform the main grade scale, have been offered a more generous deal than their members.
In a letter to Cosla last week, the three unions stated that “parity” between local government workers is a “principle area of concern for our members”.
The letter stated: “We understand the decision to find additional money – to improve teachers’ pay, but nothing for other local government workers – was the Scottish Government’s.”
It continued: “However, the situation where one bargaining group is given preferential treatment above all others can no longer continue.
“The principle of parity across local government is long held and the justifications for finding additional monies for teachers apply equally to other areas of the local government workforce.”
The letter concluded: “There is now a very real possibility of widespread industrial action across the local government workforce unless you take measures to improve the current offer. We would urge you to do so.”
It is understood Cosla is considering offering other local government workers 3% in three successive years, but no decision was reached at a private meeting last week.
Source : HeraldScotland