People often complain that fewer teachers are attending union meetings and engaging with the union. What do our candidates have to say about this?
The level of member engagement with INTO is actually much higher than ever, but of course, it is not the traditional type of involvement. For starters our membership is at an all time high – nearly 44,000. Many newer members engage with INTO in a different way to previous generations.
If I were INTO President, I would attract even more teachers to engage with INTO by being an ambassador for our union. I would visit schools and branches in every county, north and south. I would also seek to increase the number of single interest meetings, e.g. pay equality meetings, principals’ seminars, workshops, focus groups, retirement planning seminars, wellbeing events, mortgage information sessions, youth conferences ‘Getting Involved Seminars’ etc.
Members also relate to INTO through our website and via various members’ services. As President, I would promote the use of on-line fora, information videos and podcasts for our members.
I believe that we need to pilot a different model of members’ meetings particularly in our cities. As President, I would be prepared to pilot open agenda meetings immediately before or after school hours in large schools and in clusters of smaller schools in each District.
I have worked alongside many younger members in a number of INTO task forces – participation committee, jobs task force and pay-equality project team. Many of the younger members who served on these very successful sub-committees are now very involved at branch and district level. I’m a big fan of such committees and would hope to establish an INTO Youth Committee comprising one representative nominated from each District.
Quite a number of new activists have become involved in our local and national lobbying. I would prioritise the training of more lobbyists immediately after Easter, so that we can influence political parties before the Summer holidays, when deliberations on next year’s budget will take place.
I know that we will need to campaign strongly on the pay front in the year ahead. We may well have to bring members onto the streets in order to highlight the uneven treatment of our members by legislators North and South. As we have seen recently in Northern Ireland, such protests are central to any trade union strategy and help to engage members. I am however, very confident that salary negotiations North and South in 2017 will bring pay certainty for all of our members for the following three or four years.
There is no simple answer to that question. All unions and many social society organisations have problems with engagement and involvement of members. But there are a number of actions we can take in order to address this issue.
Firstly we need to acknowledge that there is a problem with levels of engagement. I feel this is not necessarily seen by much of our leadership, they are happy enough to represent a relatively passive membership. On the other hand, my vision of leadership is about organising members to campaign together and to play a central part in the decision making process.
We have to explore ways of allowing people to input into decisions and to influence policy in a way that is compatible with 21st Century living. Our use of social media, for example, is pathetic. I am a founding member and one of the admin team of the Voice For Teachers facebook page which in just 4 years has grown to have over 26,000 members, and is a forum through which teachers can support each other and discuss the issues that affect us. It’s a forum through which teachers engage on education and trade union matters daily. It’s an example of what is possible.
We also should have more issue-based meetings – something that was very effective in terms of bringing Lesser Paid Teachers together to campaign on pay inequality. We need to become a listening union, members need to know that every INTO meeting and forum is a place in which their input will be welcomed and valued.
Ultimately, teachers will engage when the union is relevant, when we are campaigning on the issues that matter to them, when we are seen to be able to make a difference. We have seen in the North how members have become more engaged recently through being mobilised on issues.