NUT and ATL are not the only teaching unions in the UK, so a merger would not mean all teachers and lecturers were in one single union. It wouldn’t mean one united force for all teachers. But it would bring together the NUT’s 330,000 members and the ATL’s 124,000 members to create a far bigger force of almost half a million teachers and lecturers.
Should NZ teachers’ unions consider the same thing?
NZEI and PPTA
In New Zealand, the NZEI has around 50,000 members, whilst PPTA has well over 17,000 members. Joining forces would make one super-union of around 67,000 members – not on the scale of the proposed merger of the NUT and ATL, but significant none-the-less. But is it needed and is it wanted?
NZEI and PPTA often follow the same or similar paths and policies but not always. For example, PPTA refused to put forward candidates for the then soon-to-be-formed Education Council, preferring not to engage at all with what they deemed to be a flawed situation, while NZEI opted to put forward candidates on the basis that if the formation of the Education Council was a fait accompli then they may as well be part of shaping it. Both paths have merit, and I don’t intend to debate them here, offering them only as an example of where the unions have gone down different paths and to ask whether one united voice in an amalgamated NZ teachers’ union is even possible.
Disagreement and Democracy
Disagreement between members is no barrier to a good, democratic, working union. Indeed, it’s exactly as one would expect in a democratic institution where everyone has a voice. There are already diverse views within each union, and that’s a positive thing. Both NZEI and PPTA are excellent at canvassing their members and making decisions through democratic representation so that the majority voice is represented. So disagreement per se is not a barrier to a merger.
So if amalgamation would give a united front, and all members would still have a voice, why not merge NZEI and PPTA? One thing to consider is that perhaps amalgamation would be a negative thing:
Maybe it’s beneficial to have two distinct sets of representation at the table when changes are being proposed, irrespective of whether those views are different or the same? When there are not many organisations consulted, perhaps two sets of school representation is better than one?
It’s also worth considering whether amalgamation would dilute the strong focus each union currently has on a particular sector, to the detriment of both? Is bigger necessarily better?
For any number of reasons, it may not be what each union’s members want – and if there is no interest from members, then that’s that.
One would hope, given the sustained attack new Zealand’s public education system from ECE to High School is under, the pros and cons of a merger to create a stronger unified voice would be given serious consideration.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts.
Note: These views are entirely my own and do not necessarily represent those of the NZEI, of which I am a member and a branch secretary. I have not consulted with PPTA or NZEI or any other union or body before writing this, merely offering my ponderings as sparked by the news of a proposed merger of UK unions.