Labour Research April 2002

Union news

Teaching union may shift on merger

Behind the scenes at the current annual conferences of the three main teaching unions is a radical development that could change the course of unionisation in the profession.

Members of the second largest of the union, the NASUWT, are considering a document from incoming general secretary Eamonn O'Kane on the possibilities for merger with the largest, the NUT, and the ATL. Although very speculative, it marks a significant departure from the previously hostile view taken by the NASUWT leadership.

O'Kane says a "fundamental principle in trade unionism" is that "any organisation of workers should strive to be a united one", only to be abandoned in the face of "overwhelming reasons." He adds that those who oppose this principle "must seek to explain what these overwhelming reasons are."

He acknowledges the historic differences - and animosity - between the three but argues that times have changed.

O'Kane argues that merely forming a closer relationship - or even a federation - of the teaching unions "would have all the disadvantages of a merger without the corresponding advantages." He was particularly referring to resources, noting that the joint income of the three unions in year 2000 was £46.6 million compared with £16 million for the NASUWT alone.

The paper has been sent to the union's local associations for discussion.