Hearts and Minds: Catriona takes on the Unions…

This week on Hearts and Minds “as special schools struggle to cope with the strike by classroom assistants, we ask the education minister what she’s doing to bring it to an end.” Catriona Ruane argues that there has been a new offer made, since 3 unions are going to ballot their members on the ‘new deal’. And consociation, we love it. First, this week, a visit to Holland, where, along with the help of the sixties and a national loss of faith, it seems to have worked:

Blame the Dutch, we explore the origins of the theory of powersharing coalition. And as the Health Minister crosses sword with his committee chair over his budget increase, we ask if any amount of money would satisfy the hunger of the health service.

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  • Frank Sinistra

    Without the power of the Industrial Union behind it, Democracy can only enter the State as the victim enters the gullet of the Serpent.

  • Dude, the Cold War is over. Your lot lost.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Catriona takes on the Unions

    Misleading headline Mick, given that the majority of Unions (plural) involved are clearly not in favour of the industrial action and, from what I’m led to believe, inclined to accept the improved offer (as one has already indeed voted to do.)

    In which case it leaves us with a singular union, NIPSA.

  • Frank Sinistra

    Sammy,

    You should know better than most that fighting the good fight is almost as important as winning.

    (I’m not a Communist)

    And democratic Socialism is now growing thriving Nations where the freedom to achieve your potential is being raised in real ways for the abandoned.

  • Mick Fealty

    When she’s got them all in the keep net Chris… maybe… many’s the slip, and all that… I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one…

  • Frank Sinistra

    Chris,

    We’ve had the 50 member Union raised as red-herring debate on another thread. Someone with the knowledge of membership levels and financial difficulties of other Unions exposed this argument as utter nonsense. They also raised the massive growth in NIPSA membership since action began that now makes it the majority representative of Classroom Assistants.

  • Connolly’s ghost

    Instead on taking on the workers and their representatives in the unions, Caitriona should be talking to them directly. Its not good enough to say that its up to the Boards – in the recent round of discussions, none of the four Chief Executives of the Boards took part.

    Caitriona might also consider the following policy positions put forward to Ard Fheiseanna by the Ard Chomhairle and the Six County Cuige in 2006 and again by the Ard Chomhairle in 2007.
    “257. This Ard Fheis:
    • Deplores the erosion of educational entitlement in the Six Counties by the current
    British Government;
    • Notes that historic under funding compounded by a crippling budget regime over the
    last two years, has resulted in the loss of over 500 teaching and non-teaching staff;
    • Deplores the loss of school transport in rural areas, classroom support for special
    needs children, school crossing patrols, music and sports tuition as well as youth
    services, which have been compounded by the decision to increase student fees; and
    • Commends the current campaign of opposition and commits itself to ending direct rule
    and securing a real budget to support education and learning.
    Ard Chomhairle

    272. This Ard Fhéis:
    • Deplores the British Government’s current assault on the educational entitlement of
    our children and young people;
    • Believes that the current and previous Direct Rule Education Ministers have
    compounded historic under funding with cuts to funding that amount to £64.8m over
    the last two years and which are expected to rise to £100m by 2008. (£31.6m
    2004/05, £33.2m 2005/06 with similar amounts expected in 2006/07);
    • Believes these cuts have resulted in the loss of over 500 school service jobs, many of
    them Class Room Assistants for Special Needs children, a loss of school transport in
    rural areas, school crossing patrols and teaching staff;
    • Commends and congratulates all those who have campaigned against these cuts; and
    • Demands an end to direct rule and a real budget to support education and learning.
    Cuigé na Sé Countae

    10. This Ard Fheis welcomes the re-establishment of the Sinn Féin Trade Union Department in
    2006. We express our support for the work of trade unions that are working to improve the pay and conditions of their members, that are working to combat exploitation in the workplace and that are fighting against privatisation of public sector companies and to improve public services; and we urge the Trade Union Department to continue its work promoting trade unionism amongst party
    members and supporters and to continue to build closer relations with the trade union movement.
    Ard Chomhairle

    Come to think of it, when one deletes British government or Direct rule ministers, perhaps some SF member can tell us what exactly has changed.

    Bear in mind that while Caitriona waffles about budgets like modern-day Thatcherite, a Sinn Féin policy document on education published a few years ago stated “Advocates of a monetarist and utilitarian view of education say that egalitarian policies have failed; they have not. They have not been tried in the fullest, most sustained, most co-ordinated and most open-minded manner necessary to effect transformation in society.”

  • patrique

    Don’t be daft Chris, read “A navvy writes” on the below thread and get the facts. Two of the other unions represent about 40 people between them. I know Sinn Fein saw democracy as one surviving person of the second dail for years, but let us not get ridiculous.

    Ruane does not give a bollocks about the assistants. She is a minister for one reason only, Eddie McGrady is stepping down from Westminster.Ruane will be the Sinn Fein candidate.

    Margaret Ritchie is a minister for the same reason, she will stand for SDLP. At present Ritchie is doing well. Ruane is doing impersonations of Thatcher during the miners and hunger strikes.

    Now that we have a semblance of real politics here, and NIPSA has 43,000 voters, Ruane is not doing herself any favours.

    And Frank, I believe NIPSA have blinked, but the elected General Council make these decisions. If they make a mess, well, unlike Ruane, they have to stand for election every year.Perhaps the 43,000 will reject them. At the moment however, we must support them.

    And just in case someone is reading this on behalf of Bumper, the anti-trade union laws have ensured that unions are now the most democratic bodies in the world, whether they like it or not. It is impossible to make a decision, or elect someone, without a ballot. This does not apply to governments, they need to face the electorate every 5 years.

  • quiz master

    In case anyone gets any funny ideas about the current style of government here in the north somehow working they should take a look at the current situation in Belgium which operates a similar system. Belgium like the north has two distinctive ethnic groups the flemmish in the north and the french speaking wallons in the south. At the moment theyre at each others knecks. Wallonia looks like it may break away and join france and flanders may join up with the netherlands. http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2985&Itemid=1&lang=en.

    Which brings me to the question are we being prepared for repartition?

  • kensei

    Sammy

    I running up against my ignorance here. Did the Communist bloc feature strong unions, that had the power to strike and cause problems, or where they more likely to get crushed into the mud if they tried it? Just as point of interest, I’m wondering if you only get them in democratic states.

  • Turgon

    kensei,
    I am not an expert. I suspect Sammy could answer better.

    I think the Communist bloc did indeed have unions but they toed the communist party’s line and were not independent. From vague memory Solidarity was clearly an independent trade union. The wikipedia entery mentions “It was the first non-communist trade union in a communist country.” As such (and from memory) there were unions but as I said above they were not as we would understand them. The Nazi’s had a similar type of unions to keep the workers happy and supporting the regime.

  • patrique

    Oh my God, just seen it. I did Thatcher a disservice, at least she let on she had an idea, and was interested. Come back Johnny McQuade.

    To suggest a union did not ask its members is ludicrous, and shows that either Ruane is stupid, or thinks that the people are stupid. YOU CANNOT HAVE A STRIKE WITHOUT A BALLOT.

    She then suggests another ballot. Why? It takes about 6 weeks to organise ballot/warning/strike, so she is trying to buy time and hope that she can fool enough of the people in time.

    Why not intern the NIPSA leadership?

  • Frank Sinistra

    Connolly’s ghost,

    *laughs*

    I didn’t think of examining the contradictions between the action of a SF Minister and the will of the Ard Fheis. You just get used to SF ignoring their actual policy on issues.

  • tweedledee

    Chris,

    Catriona takes on the Unions

    That’s exactly what she did when she decided to write directly to the union members, called on the union’s executive/bargaining team (the sole legitimate bargaining agent on behalf of its members) to go ballot their members again. See patrique’s comment at 11:52 pm.

  • I think the Communist bloc did indeed have unions but they toed the communist party’s line and were not independent. From vague memory Solidarity was clearly an independent trade union.

    Kensei/Turgon: Turgon is right. There were unions in most (probably all, but I wouldn’t want to die in the ditch over Ethiopia or Laos) Communist countries before they became Communist countries. Some of them were Communist controlled, and tended to be the backbone of Communist movements in countries where they had real, pre-revolution, political support (e.g. Czechoslovakia pre- and just post-war) and in a few others they never took control of (Iran, Italy, India). Those that were Communist controlled were already toeing the party line, those that weren’t were either entered and ‘encouraged’ to become part of Communist federations, or crushed.

    Now Garibaldy will appear and tell me how wrong I got all that!

    Solidarity was different because it emerged after several decades of Communist control in Poland and had little, if any, heritage from the pre-war years.

    Initially, Solidarity was crushed, but by 1989 was having tea and buns with the generals to discuss the transition to democracy. So they won in the end. Which ties neatly in with Frank’s earlier comment that,

    You should know better than most that fighting the good fight is almost as important as winning.

    Agreed. We just might disagree a little on what constitutes ‘the good fight’. 😉

  • veritas

    Maybe she should now be called Catriona Ruin

  • veritas

    or the Sinister for education

  • Rapunsel

    Ah, she has finally come out into the open and opposed the NIPSA demands openly. I wondered how long she could keep up with the pretence and the speaking out of both sides of her mouth at the same time. Didn’t perform well at all on this issue and the demand for a ballot is clearly to but time or some vague hope that NIPSA members will vote in favour of the offer.

    However NIPSA have made a PR blunder by not stopping the action at special schools( could this be because the action at mainstream schools has no significant impact on parents and the loss of classroom assistants could be accommodated without too many dificulties).

    I predict NIPSA will be humbled on this one but also that Catriona has done herself significant damage on this one. I’ve posted before that her big weakness has been to be indecisive. She’ll not even be getting a preference from me should she stand in South Down now.

  • brendan,belfast

    Aah poor Chris, so silent since last night. Have the ‘lines to take’ not come through yet Chris? get on to Richard McAuley immediately!

  • Pure man play Brendan!! Chris is one of the few people who comes on here under his own name, and is prepared to stand by his own words. Would that others would do the same!

    BTW, I understand the practical reasons for people using anonymity, but I have big problems with it when it is used to launch *personal attacks with those who have the courage to use their own.

  • MARY

    “In case anyone gets any funny ideas about the current style of government here in the north somehow working they should take a look at the current situation in Belgium which operates a similar system.”

    Quiz Master, Hearts and Minds has a film report on this very topic in next week’s programme.

  • brendan,belfast

    It was merely an observation Mick that, unusually, Chris has been very quiet on a thread where he was to jump in and defend the SF position at the beginning. and how do you know ‘Chris Donnelly’ is his real name? and what makes you htink ‘Brendan’ isn’t mine? How do we know yours is ‘Mick’???

  • CTN

    With traditional provisional movement incompetence to the fore here- who’s bettin on Margaret Richie being the next Fianna Fail TD for South Down since De Valera….

  • Mick Fealty

    Just play the ball Brendan.. and we’ll say no more…

  • veritas

    It is ironic that those who complained about the Brits using “black propaganda” during the “war”are now employing the same tactics against a trade union that is seeking a just outcome for it’s members.It is even more ironic given that NIPSA are only articulating a position that was the aim of Sinn Fein(prior to them being in government of course).

  • Chris Donnelly

    Brendan

    Don’t want to let your paranoid tendency get the better of you; I just know that a simple answer like I had other things to do last night then await replies to my solitary post wouldn’t be accepted by your good self…

    I’d dispute (ahem) ‘Frank Sinistra’s’ claims about both the membership figures of other unions representing classroom assistants, as well as the claims that NIPSA’s numbers are swelling.

    What is very clear is that the deal on offer represents a fair compromise- and that only due to the intervention of the Minister which led to a substantial additional amount of money being tabled. Hence the reason for the leaderships of each of the Unions involved either already endorsing the deal and/ or shying away from the NIPSA line over this one.

    Which leads us nicely onto NIPSA, who appear to be content to allow the Socialist Party standard bearers within their number run amok, creating considerable anger amongst the membership of the other unions due to their literature and personal abuse of members of those unions.

  • Alex S

    As the father of a special needs child thankfully with a non nipsa classroom assistant I am sickened by the strike, yes classroom assistants do a difficult job, so do those working in nursing homes, what makes class room assistants so special, were the firemen who recovered the bodies from the fire in Omagh paid enough, are paramedics tending to drunks while being asaulted by their mates paid enough, I could go on, it’s not as though the present class room assistants are going to lose money, in effect they are causing pain and suffering to todays special needs children and their families to protect the interests of tomorrows class room assistants!

    If they are not prepared to do the job they should be sacked, people like this can’t be trusted to look after vulnerable childern!

  • harry

    If they are not prepared to do the job they should be sacked, people like this can’t be trusted to look after vulnerable childern!

    yeah they should do it for nothing!!

  • harry

    As the father of a special needs child thankfully with a non nipsa classroom assistant

    do you pay extra for a classroom assistant?
    do you pay your assisatant or school privately for this service??

    i take it that the tax payers pay for the classroom assistant in the school

    why should special needs children have more money spent on them than the ordinary needs child??

    what i said is not a very nice arguement, but the assiatants are not charity workers and deserve good pay and conditions.

  • swings and roundabouts

    Alex S

    “I could go on, it’s not as though the present class room assistants are going to lose money, in effect they are causing pain and suffering to todays special needs children and their families to protect the interests of tomorrows class room assistants!”

    I take it you don’t object then to tomorrow’s special needs children receiving inferior care to today’s.

  • Connolly’s Ghost

    I wonder if Caitriona or Paul Butler ever took time to read the SF election manifesto for the last Assembly election which among other broken promises states

    “To advance this priority, Sinn Féin in Government will work to:
    • Promote the right to fair pay, and to work in safe conditions that are not harmful to health and well-being.
    • Promote the right to protection from redundancy and to access life-long learning opportunities and vocational training and re-training.
    • Promote the right to form, join and be represented by trade unions, to negotiate contracts of employment, to picket and to withhold labour.
    • Promote the right of workers to be consulted and heard on workplace decisions which affect them.”

  • Alex S

    do you pay extra for a classroom assistant?
    do you pay your assisatant or school privately for this service??

    i take it that the tax payers pay for the classroom assistant in the school

    Harry.

    And your ponit is?

  • Alex S

    I take it you don’t object then to tomorrow’s special needs children receiving inferior care to today’s.

    Posted by swings and roundabouts on Nov 17, 2007 @ 12:57 AM

    So the level of care afforded by class room assistants depends on how much cash they recieve, and I thought I was being critical

  • Alex S

    yeah they should do it for nothing!!

    Posted by harry on Nov 17, 2007 @ 12:02 AM

    No, but they are not conscripts

  • Smithsonian

    Alex S
    But nobody likes to see their pay cut!

    It does rather suggest that you aren’t valued. I wonder how teachers and policemen would react to a cut in pay, (even if payment protection were offered for a short period).

    The payment protection isn’t up to much because when a child leaves (say at P7) the contract is terminated and pay protection ends.

    and Chris Donnelly do you think the Minister will prioritise special needs in the forthcoming budget?

  • Alex S

    Housing allowance as stopped for new police recruits years ago, the same with free dental care, the point is special needs children are suffering, at least NIPSA should be honest enough to admit it, this dispute has nothing to do with the interests of the children, its about the cash!

  • harry

    and alex s.

    what will you have to say when the minster starts to save money when she cuts funding to special needs projects and funding.

    would you like if a special needs child had exactly the same spent on it as a ordinary child with no assistants or alowances.

    you would have face on you then.

    but you expect the classroom asistant to do the same job for less money.

    would you accept what amounts to a pay cut in your job?

  • swings and roundabouts

    Alex S

    “So the level of care afforded by class room assistants depends on how much cash they recieve, and I thought I was being critical”

    You get what you pay for.

  • Smithsonian

    Alex S
    You are right, this dispute is about cash. It is about the Dept. of Education trying to tackle overspends on Special needs. Classroom assistants are being asked to bear the burden of financial mismanagement by the boards.

    The boards admit that they are trying to reduce the the number of educational statements made, particularly those that require special needs and 1 to 1 Classroom assistant support. No wonder Classroom Assistants fear for their jobs and lack trust in pay protection plans.

    Classroom Assistants love their job and are totally committed to the children they look after.

    They cannot understand why their professional qualifications are not being recognised, why they are now to be classified with manual and non teaching staff and why their profession is being asked to take a paycut.

    The strike will probably collapse next week because low paid classroom assistants cannot afford to lose the wages at this time of the year, but they will return to work dejected and demoralised, hardly an ideal state of mind for people to be looking after your children.

    Catriona Ruane should hang her head in shame.

  • Patrique

    Alex S. ALL of the people you mentioned deserve pay rises, that is the cause of the strike. If special needs kids do not need special attention, yes, do away with “special needs”, let them cope on their own, and then the assistants will not be paid. Do the same with elderly and sick, let them look after themselves, won’t need to pay nurses and carers.

    Sometimes I wonder how the Conservatives ever lose an election.

  • harry

    Sometimes I wonder how the Conservatives ever lose an election.

    Posted by Patrique on Nov 17, 2007 @ 09:56 PM

    conservatism never loses an election thats for sure.

    look at the assembley, all conservative parties there

  • tweedledee

    in effect they are causing pain and suffering to todays special needs children and their families

    Oh my gawd, I can hardly believe what I read.

    What pain and suffering are they causing, Alex? At most a bit of inconvenience to those who have to take some time off work to look after their own children. Suffer little children … emotional blackmail like that can backfire, you know.

    Righteous blackmail from a blackleg, whatever next.

  • Patrique

    Eloquently put, Tweedledee.

    The thought that the Government totally relies on emotional blackmail to underpay firemen, carers, classroom assistants, nurses etc never seems to enter the mind of people like Alex.

  • Connoly’s Ghost

    Posted by Smithsonian on Nov 17, 2007 @ 09:39 PM

    I cannot disagree with what you have said

  • Connolly’s Ghost

    As James Connolly himself stated, “Nationalism without Socialism………..It would be tantamount to a public declaration that our oppressors had so far succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality that we had finally decided to accept those conceptions as our own, and no longer needed an alien army to force them upon us.

    As a Socialist I am prepared to do all one man can do to achieve for our motherland her rightful heritage – independence; but if you ask me to abate one jot or tittle of the claims of social justice, in order to conciliate the privileged classes, then I must decline.

    Such action would be neither honourable nor feasible. Let us never forget that he never reaches Heaven who marches thither in the company of the Devil. Let us openly proclaim our faith: the logic of events is with us.”

  • Alex S

    While I agree with a lot of what has been said the fact remains that money and resorces are already ‘tight’ for special needs children, ask any parent, we have to fight for what we get, the reality is the more that is spent on salaries the less will be available for the children, class room assistants are only part of the equation.

  • Smithsonian

    Alex S
    So how much money will be saved by forcing the classroom assistants back to work and where do you think this money should be spent?