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145. Gemma Edwards FP


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									Restructuring UK state education: the consequences for
active union membership amongst teachers
Gemma Edwards, University of Manchester

Public sector restructuring has been happening in the UK since the ‘New Public Management’
reforms of the 1980s, and continues with New Labour’s agenda for the ‘modernisation’ of
public services. In recent years, modernisation has been related to instances of union
mobilisation in the public sector, including on the part of firefighters, ambulance workers, and
postal workers. In this paper, I explore the relationship between modernisation and union
mobilisation in the state teaching sector. I draw upon quantitative and qualitative data relating
to members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), to argue that whilst teachers articulate
concerns surrounding restructuring (leading to mobilisation potential), the modernisation of
the workplace also places constraints upon active participation in union affairs.

Key words: membership participation / mobilisation / modernisation / public sector
restructuring / UK National Union of Teachers

This paper assesses the consequences of New Labour’s policy of public sector
‘modernisation’ for active trade union membership amongst teachers. Modernisation
continues many elements of the ‘New Public Management’ of the 1980s. On the other hand, it
also diverges in key ways from Conservative policies, and takes on a distinct form when it
comes to privatisation and marketisation. Modernisation involves bringing private businesses
into partnership with the state, delivering and running public services as if they are private
enterprises, and managing public sector employees through business techniques. Public
sector unions have argued that modernisation results in cuts, both in provision and
employment. Further, unions have argued that whilst modernisation aims to make public
services more ‘efficient’, the definition of efficiency that it employs is a narrow, economically
defined one, which undermines the public sector values at the heart of existing services
(Seifert 2003). These issues have been central in recent instances of union mobilisation in the
public sector, from the strike action of firefighters (2002-3+), to that of ambulance workers
(2006), and postal workers (June 2007).
    Modernisation policies have also affected the field of education in the UK and have
sparked national campaigns by teacher unions over issues like performance-related pay,
SATs, workforce remodelling, pensions, and academy schools. Despite local actions, no
national strikes have been instigated. In fact, looking at the largest of the teacher unions, the
National Union of Teachers (NUT), reveals a situation where union mobilisation attempts are
currently problematic. This is reflected in low levels of membership participation in the union,
and the concern that this has sparked in NUT circles .
    There is a difference, of course, between membership participation at ‘crisis points’, like
times of national strike action, and the day-to-day participation of members in union affairs.
There is much evidence to suggest that teachers historically do become militant ‘en mass’ at
times of crisis (Seifert 1987) . Furthermore, membership non-participation in union affairs has
often been seen as the norm in the union movement (Lipset 1954). This said, there is still an
important connection between the everyday involvement of union members, and the
mobilisation potential of trade unions. Individual participation is the essential ingredient of
mobilisation (Dixon and Roscigno 2003). Without day-to-day membership participation in
terms of attending meetings, voting in ballots, campaigning, and taking on representative
roles, unions lose something of their ability to mobilise politically, and their negotiating power.
   Whilst the reasons for low levels of membership participation in teacher unions, like the
NUT, are varied and complex, I argue here that modernisation is part of the story. Whilst
restructuring has sparked workplace concerns for teachers, it has also placed constraints
upon union participation because of the changes instigated in the workplace. These changes
include, primarily, the intensification of work, which denies NUT members resources of time
for participation, whilst also eroding spaces for collective discussion. These spaces are not
only important resources for mobilisation in themselves, they are also places in which

collectivist and political versions of union membership - which challenge prevailing
consumerist interpretations - can be constructed and reproduced. Modernisation, then, is
related to union mobilisation potential, but it also forms part of the reason why this potential
may remain unrealised.
   The paper consists of four sections. Firstly, I provide a brief note on method and data.
Secondly, I argue that teachers’ workplace concerns are inextricably linked to modernisation
policies, and in that respect, modernisation relates to union mobilisation potential. In section
three, however, I suggest that this potential is not translated into activity on the part of NUT
members in 2004-5. The final section argues that modernisation, both directly and indirectly,
helps to account for this situation.

1. Method and data
Public sector restructuring has been identified as an international and politically significant
trend (Larbi 1999). It is important, however, for both the validity of theory and the richness of
occupational and national comparison, that the impact of modernisation policies do not
remain at the abstract level, but are studied empirically, and in relation to specific work
contexts. For these reasons, I adopted a case study approach, focusing upon the field of
public sector education in the UK and teachers in the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
There are four classroom teacher unions/professional associations in the UK, and each have
different histories, as well as diverging philosophically when it comes to issues of trade
unionism and education policy. It was necessary, therefore, to look at members in the context
of their particular teaching union, and the remit of the research did not allow for analysis of all
four. Being both the largest, and the original, teaching union (established in 1870), the NUT
presented itself as a logical choice (see Barber 1992; Tropp 1957 for historical accounts).
    The case study involved a mix of methods. Firstly, government documents were used to
explore New Labour’s modernisation policies. Secondly, forty-five semi-structured interviews
with members of the NUT were conducted between January 2004 and March 2005.
Interviewees were asked about their workplace concerns, union membership,
levels/perceptions of participation, and factors that encourage/prevent participation. Thirdly,
the dataset relating to the 2004 Labour Research Department (LRD) survey ‘NUT
Membership Participation’ was analysed first-hand using SPSS (N=1252). The survey
contained fifty-three variables relating to members’ workplace concerns, frequency of
participation in various union activities, attitudes towards work and the union, and factors that
prevent/encourage participation . 6000 surveys went out to NUT members nationwide and at
random, with a response rate of 21 percent. The interview sample was achieved through
snowballing due to the lack of accessible sampling frame. Although members in this sample
were diverse in terms of sex, age, union position and geographical location , the interview
sample cannot be said to be ‘typical’ of NUT members nationally, and this carries the
associated problems of sample bias. The survey data, which in contrast was based on a
random, national sample, is used in conjunction with interview responses, and helps in
placing teachers’ subjective accounts in wider context, whilst, in turn, those accounts add
depth and detail to general trends. Generalised conclusions based on the data presented are,
however, tentative, and should be read in the context of these constraints.

2. Public sector restructuring and workplace concerns
The restructuring of public sector services is not a new phenomenon, nor one that is specific
to the UK (Larbi 1999). Thatcher’s Conservative government, which took power in 1979,
fundamentally changed the size and management of the public sector. These changes have
been expressed in terms of the ‘New Public Management’, which aimed to cut back the public
sector (through privatisation) and make what remained more efficient (in an economic sense),
by introducing market competition, performance management systems, and accountability to
citizens (Drewry 2005). Elements of this neo-liberal restructuring programme have continued
under New Labour (Clarke and Newman 1997). They accept much of the critique of the
welfare state, with theorists like Giddens arguing that, ‘social democrats must respond to the
criticism that, lacking market discipline, state institutions become lazy and the services they
deliver shoddy’ (Giddens 1998, p.75-5). New Labour also accept that the market can play a
key role, not only through privatisation and competition, but through the model of practice
adopted by business. Diffusing business practice in terms of the management of institutions
and employees is seen as the key to ‘modernising’ the public sector, including those services
traditionally associated with the welfare state, like schools, hospitals and emergency services

(Finlayson 2003). Adopting an enterprise model for state institutions, whilst also opening them
up to private business involvement through PFI/PPP , is hoped to achieve value for money,
economic efficiency, improved delivery, and a reduction in overall state expenditure (Flynn
   Data suggested that these policies have led to a significant number of grievances for
teachers, whose workplaces have undergone fundamental change. Figure 1 shows the
workplace issues which teachers in the survey considered to be the ‘most crucial’ and in need
of union attention (N=1252).
                       Figure 5.1
                       Figure 1
   Most crucial issue at work for teachers in the
Most crucial issue at workfor teachers in the NUT NUT
                                                                     Pay and progression
                                                                     Better career
                                                                     Better employment
                                                                     Improved work/life
                                        17.02%                       balance
               15.61%                                                Pupil behaviour
      1.32%                                                          Harassment/bullying
      1.68%                                                          More training for
                                                                     Equal opportunities
              7.76%                                                  OFSTED

                        9.52%                                        Workload
                                                                     Health and safety

        Data Source: NUT Membership Participation Survey 2004, LRD

In a clear majority, just under one third of teachers (29.7 percent) felt that the ‘most crucial’
issue at work was finding an improved ‘work/life balance’, a concern connected with that of
‘workload’ (15 percent). The second largest proportion of teachers (17.02 percent) regarded
issues of ‘pay and progression’ to be the ‘most crucial’, whilst ‘pupil behaviour’ (9.52 percent)
and ‘pensions’ (7.76 percent) were also considered significant. Next were concerns about
‘SATs’ (4.14 percent), ‘stress’ (4.06 percent) and ‘workforce remodelling’ (3.97 percent).
For teachers who participated in interviews, workload was ranked joint second alongside
performance management and pay issues. Eleven out of the forty-five said that their main
concern was workload or work/life balance, and a further three cited paperwork and
    It is widely accepted in educational literature that the increase in teacher workload is
connected with the NPM reforms of the Conservatives, in particular, the 1988 education act
(Ironside and Seifert 1995, p. 177-8; Tomlinson 2001, p. 106-71). This act created a ‘pseudo-
market’ in education (Whitty 2002, p. 11), which was driven by competition and choice, and
was sustained by ‘statutory attainment tests’ (SATs), and the subsequent publication of
results in league tables. Teacher workload grew, not only because of the administration
involved in testing, but because of the introduction of a National Curriculum, target-setting,
and state inspections (Ofsted). Teacher workload has been further intensified under New
Labour, as tests, target-setting, and inspections remain, whilst performance-management
systems have grown. This is reflected in the introduction of thresholds and performance-
related pay (Richardson 1999). ‘The Teacher Workload Study’, commissioned by the DfES,
reported in 2001 that teachers had a longer and more intensive working week than
comparable occupations (PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2001).
     The concerns of interviewees reflected the impact of this restructuring, with national
curriculum testing (SATs) and remodelling being the joint top concerns for the teachers
interviewed. Although less than five per cent of the survey sample stated ‘workforce
remodelling’ (i.e. the modernisation of schools) as their ‘most crucial’ issue, it came joint top
for interviewees, alongside SATs. This disparity between survey and interview data may be
due to the fact that many of the interviews were completed after June 2004, when the survey
was conducted, and issues around remodelling gained a higher national profile as 2004
progressed. It may also be because remodelling was connected in teachers’ accounts with a

wide range of other issues, such as performance management and pay, which appeared as
separate categories on the survey questionnaire.
   As mentioned previously, workforce remodelling refers to New Labour’s strategy to
‘modernise’ the teaching profession; ‘making its culture, structure, rewards and conditions
congruent with other professions in a modern economy’ (Merson 2000, p. 156). Outlined in
the 1998 Green Paper ‘Teachers Meeting the Challenge of Change’ (DfEE 1998), it involves
several initiatives aimed to address problems of recruitment, retention and bureaucracy (see
Tomlinson 2001). In respect of the latter, it includes strategies to reduce teacher workload by
limiting the range of administrative duties that teachers undertake. The purpose of lowering
teacher workload meant that it was, in part, welcomed by teachers. However, it was the
potential for unqualified teachers to take whole classes which was the concern expressed
most often by interviewees (and indeed the NUT nationally, who refused to sign up to the
agreement). Subsequently, some members linked remodelling proposals to attempts to
reformulate the bounds of teacher professionalism, and to deskill and cheapen labour:

             A lot of industrial disputes now revolve around this issue of
             deskilling and trying to get people to work for cheaper than they
             have in the past and it’s exactly the same within teaching. I know in
             some schools they’re employing what they call ‘cover
             supervisors’…they’re paid £12,000 a year whereas a teacher is paid
             £22,000 (interviewee 18, NUT School Representative).

   Another aspect of remodelling which was of concern to interviewees was performance
management and pay. Eleven of the teachers interviewed stated that performance
management issues were their main concern at work. The rationale behind performance-
related pay is to further reformulate teacher professionalism (towards what has been called
the ‘new entrepreneur’) (Mac an Ghaill 1992), and increase productivity and standards by
implementing financially-based structures of motivation within teaching. On an individual basis,
teachers are seen as instrumental-rational actors motivated by the monetary rewards of
threshold payments, linked to the results they deliver, and often, to more demanding contracts
of work (Merson 2000).
   Other key concerns expressed in interviews concurred with those highlighted in the survey.
Four interviewees stated that their main concern was ‘pupil behaviour’, whilst three flagged up
‘the move to the privatisation of education’ (interview 19, NUT Division Secretary) as the key
issue, particularly in areas of the country where Academy schools had already been
established. Academy schools are a key part of New Labour’s agenda for the modernisation
of education, bringing in business expertise through partnership with the private sector (DfES
2005). Private business sponsors fund up to 20 percent of an academy, with the remainder
coming from government. In exchange, the sponsor has a hand in running the school and
shaping its curriculum and ethos. It was a key concern for some NUT members, however:
             The LEAs should be the providers of schools. It’s very disturbing
             when you see things like City Academies and really its one of the
             things that’s at the root of all the problems that we have in the
             education system (interview 20, NUT Division Secretary).

In the context of a high profile national campaign against increasing the retirement age of
public sector workers from sixty to sixty-five, ‘pensions’ was cited as a concern by the majority
of those interviewed. This issue was also connected, by some NUT members, with the
modernisation agenda, because:

             Private industry will only go into the public sector if the labour in that
             sector is cheap and flexible and easily malleable. So that’s the
             nature of the offensive against education - to cheapen labour, to
             make it more flexible and to control it (Interviewee 16, NUT Division

   This section has suggested that educational restructuring and modernisation are
inextricably connected to the high number of concerns that teachers in the NUT have about

their workplace in 2004-5. In this respect, it can be said that modernisation is related to a high
potential for union mobilisation within the NUT.

3. Modernisation and union mobilisation
A high number of workplace concerns raise expectations of a high level of union mobilisation.
Certainly levels of union membership amongst teachers concur with these expectations, with
teachers belonging to unions ‘more both absolutely and relatively than any other single
profession, occupation or work group in the UK’ (Ironside and Seifert 1995, p. 161). The NUT,
for example, has continued to increase its membership since the early 1990s, despite a dip in
numbers throughout the 1980s. This dip is the likely after-effect of the teacher strikes of 1984-
7 (Barber 1992, p. 64).
    The NUT’s growing membership goes against the well-documented decline in trade union
density since 1979 (Disney, et al. 1998). The sustained growth of the NUT is partly because,
as a public sector, white-collar union, it has been less affected by changes relating to the
decline of manufacturing industries and issues around union recognition in the private sector
(Disney, et al. 1998). In the UK, for example, less than 1 in 5 private sector employees are
union members, compared with nearly 3 in 5 public sector employees (Palmer et al 2004, p.
1). This is not to say however that the political context of the 1980s failed to have a profound
affect on teacher unionism (Barber 1992), creating a more hostile environment through
measures like the removal of national negotiating rights over pay . Teacher unions have
therefore also been subject to restrictions and have managed to recover numbers in spite of
    It has been suggested in educational literature that the high level of union membership
amongst teachers reflects the high conflict potential in schools since 1988. This would
certainly concur with the myriad of concerns that teachers express. Ironside and Seifert, for
example, argue that a high union density in the teaching sector can be put down to the great
‘potential for conflict’ since the introduction of Local Management of Schools (LMS), and
Human Resource Management techniques (HRM), in the early 1990s, which reformulated the
relationship between staff and senior mangers as one ridden with clashes of interest and
therefore made industrial relations an essential component of teachers’ workplaces (Ironside
and Seifert 1995, p. 161-2). This dynamic is only to be strengthened with moves towards local
school leadership, autonomy, and the academy system. The prevailing issue affecting other
sectors; that of declining trade union membership, is, therefore, clearly not the focus for the
NUT. In recent years, however, the NUT has expressed a ‘problem’ with mobilising their
membership around workplace grievances. The situation of the NUT amounts to something of
a ‘participation paradox’: whilst levels of union membership continue to grow so does the
problem of membership non-participation.
    Many have been keen to point out that mass non-participation in union affairs is the norm
in trade unions (Lipset 1954). This view is often shared by those looking at political
participation more widely. Dahl, for example, argues that considering the costs of participation,
the puzzling question is not why people do not participate, but, on the contrary, why people do
(Dahl 1961). Also, modern-day unions can increasingly operate as ‘service providers’ without
membership participation (Bassett and Cave 1993). Membership participation is, however,
essential to union mobilisation capacity; firstly in a political sense (for example, campaigns
against government policies), and secondly in terms of its ability to bring the strike weapon to
the negotiating table. Furthermore, recognising the importance of membership participation
for its democratic tradition, the NUT formed a ‘Working Party on Union Democracy’ in 2004, to
discuss new ways of increasing members’ participation. This was based partly, for some, on
the perception that membership participation had declined since the 1980s.
     The LRD survey on NUT membership participation (LRD, 2004) was commissioned as
part of this investigation. A first hand analysis of the LRD dataset confirmed that, despite high
levels of engagement with union communications and literature , levels of membership
participation in a range of union activities were, at the time, low. The graph in figure 3 shows
that the vast majority of NUT members in the survey sample (85 per cent) never attend union
general meetings.

Figure 6.3: Graph showing frequency of attendance
               at general meetings

                      Figure 2
   Frequency of attendance at union general meetings







             Never      Occasionally    Regularly

    Data Source: NUT Membership Participation Survey 2004, LRD

Similarly low levels of attendance at meetings were discussed by interviewees:

                     We have about fifteen hundred members…sometimes we’re barely
                     quorate at meetings. It’s below one per cent, so the level of
                     participation is very poor, it’s worrying (interview 25, NUT Division

   Figure 4 shows how frequently members in the survey sample voted in union elections.

                                                   Figure 3
 Table showing the percentage of NUT members engaged in union-related voting activities, by frequency of
 Activity                                                Never Sometimes Always Total
 Vote in local/division elections                        22.6   46.9           30.4     100
 Vote for National Executive members                     20.9   41.7           37.4     100
 Vote in General Secretary/deputy elections              20.1   37.2           42.7     100
 Vote in industrial action ballots                       27.5   27.2           45.2     100
                                      Data Source: NUT Membership Participation Survey 2004, LRD

Figure 4 suggests that the greater the scale of the election, the greater the proportion of
members who vote in it. For example, around four fifths of the survey sample say that they
sometimes or always vote in elections for the National Executive and General
Secretary/Deputy, whilst local elections have the lowest levels of turnout, with over a fifth
(22.6 percent) never voting.
   The suggestion of high levels of participation in national ballots was challenged by
interviewees, however, especially those local officers who were gearing up their members in
2004 for the election of a new NUT General Secretary. Essentially, the most predictable level
of turnout to be deduced from the survey is below fifty percent in all ballots, and below one
third in local elections, because it cannot be said whether the sometimes voters ‘mostly’ or
‘rarely’ vote. Recent union elections and evidence from interviews suggest that these
‘sometimes voters’ are perhaps rare voters. One Division Secretary talked of the problem of
voter ‘apathy’ in his constituency:

                     I mailed every one of our thousand members with all the information
                     on the candidates asking who they would like us to nominate (for
                     General Secretary). I’ve got less than a hundred votes, which is less
                     than ten per cent, which is poor (interview 11, NUT Division

    Figure 5 shows the percentage of members in the survey sample who hold, or have held,
official union positions, or have been involved in campaigning.

                                                   Figure 4
        Table showing official forms of union participation, by percentage of NUT members involved
Role                                                                                    %
Currently an NUT School Representative                                                  10.7
Have been a School Representative                                                       23.1
Have held a position at local association/division level                                6
Have been a delegate at national conference                                             4.1
Have taken another representative role within the NUT                                   4.5
Have taken part in organising a campaign within the NUT                                 11.4
                                     Data Source: NUT Membership Participation Survey 2004, LRD

Figure 5 shows that a minority of NUT members take on official union roles. Just over 10
percent were currently school representatives, although more than twice this figure had been
a school representative. In contrast to these levels, only six percent had ever held a position
at local association/division level, and even less than this have taken on other representative
roles or been delegates to national conference. The lack of members prepared to take on
official roles was one of the most talked about ‘problems’ in interviews with activists:

               It’s getting harder and harder to generate sufficient lay officers
               driving local branches. Often there isn’t really much of a local
               committee, and we’ve got far fewer key activists (interview 3, NUT
               Regional Officer).

Slightly higher proportions had been involved in organising union campaigns, although this
remained capped at just over 10 percent. This finding was substantiated by interviewees,
many of whom argued that whilst members often express their support, involvement is
‘always disappointing on any campaign’ (interview 17, NUT Division Secretary).
   Whilst the modernisation of schools has led to high potential for union mobilisation, data
suggests that this potential has not been translated into activity on the part of NUT members
in the current context. There exists, therefore, an important gap between teachers’ workplace
concerns and union actions. The reasons for this are explored in the final section.

4. Modernisation and membership non-participation
The reasons for low levels of membership participation in unions are complex and varied.
There have clearly been important large-scale changes for unions since the anti-trade union
legislation of the 1980s, and the wider political and economic shifts that accompanied them
(Rubery 1986). One of the most important reasons why membership participation is perhaps
particularly problematic in this context is the shift towards ‘service models’ of trade unionism
(Bassett and Cave 1993). In this model, the union acts a service provider for members, who
are essentially consumers (Williams 1997). The problem with this model is that it rules out
active participation from the start. Trade union membership in these terms is a consumerist,
rather than participatory, activity. There was much evidence from interviews with NUT
members to suggest that this kind of view was dominant amongst members, and was
reinforced by recruitment campaigns which stress insurance services.
   What I want to argue, however, is that modernisation policies (which have fundamentally
restructured teachers’ workplaces), play both a direct and indirect role in sustaining low levels
of membership participation, in the context discussed here. Firstly, modernisation plays a
direct role because it intensifies the labour process for teachers to the point where a ‘lack of
time’ for union participation becomes a constraint worthy of recognition. Secondly,
modernisation has an indirect role because an intensified labour process undermines the
discursive spaces in which union members can communicate about workplace concerns.
These discursive spaces are essential to mobilisation in themselves, but they are also the
spaces in which members can construct alternative (collective and political), identities,
capable of challenging prevailing consumerist ones.
      In the existing literature on union participation, the idea that despite the nature of their
union beliefs and attitudes, individuals may experience constraints in participation has not
been widely acknowledged. Instead, research remains tied to a broadly social-psychological
framework in which ‘attitudes’ are the focus. Although using an attitudinal approach in their
2004 survey-based study of the NUT , Snape, Redman and Chan had previously highlighted
this gap as one in need of further research (Snape, et al. 2000). They argue that the

 ‘reasoned action theory’ (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975) widely adopted in the field, ‘takes no
 account of the possibility that members may face constraints in participation’, including those
 of time (Snape, at al. 2000, p. 225).
    The importance of constraints was verified by interview data, where workload and time
 were cited as key reasons for non-participation by all interviewees. In fact, a lack of time was
 the most talked about issue when interviewees were asked to explain why teachers were not
 more active in the union. Interviewees argued overwhelmingly that it was a lack of time, rather
 than a lack of concern, that led to non-participation:

                        When you talk to them in work they’re aware of the issues and
                        concerned about the issues, but I think that they find it hard to find
                        the time to attend meetings and such, and to do anything about it
                        (interview 18, NUT School Representative).

 Certainly, the argument that teachers lack the time for union involvement, over and above a
 lack of interest, concurs with the survey data. Teachers were asked to state the ‘most
 important’ reason why they did not attend union meetings. Figure 6 shows that the reason
 stated to be ‘most important’ by the greatest proportion of members was ‘too many work
Figure 7.1: Most important reason why NUT members do not attend
                                 Figure 5
                        union meetings
 Most important reason why NUT members do not attend union meetings
                                                               Nobody asks me to
                                                               No meetings have
                                                               been organised
                                                               Don't know
                                                               when/where held
                                3.57%                          Meetings held at
                       16.78%                                  awkward
                                                               Not really
                                                               interested in union
             7.91%                               7.43%         matters
                                                               Too many work
            1.74%                                              commitments
                                                 8.58%         Care commitments
                                                               prevent me
                                                               Don't feel
                                                               comfortable with
                                                               the environment at
                                                               the meetings
                                                               Don't feel they
                                                               would have
                                                               influence on
                                                               working life
                                                               Get enough union
                                                               information from
                                                               other sources
  Data Source: NUT Membership Participation Survey 2004, LRD

 ‘Too may work commitments’ was ranked top even when the sample was differentiated
 between age-group and sex. Significantly, the data shows that over three times more
 members stated work commitments as the most important reason for non-attendance at
 meetings (28.4 percent) compared to ‘not really interested in union affairs’ (8.6 percent).
    Constraints of time are directly related to educational restructuring and the modernisation
 of schools. Section two, for example, showed how policies from the 1988 education act
 onwards have intensified the work of teachers, and how workload and stress represent key
 grievances. Whilst modernisation has raised workplace concerns, it has therefore also been
 responsible for undermining the resources of time needed to address them. One Division
 Secretary, for example, put a ‘decline in attendance at union meetings since the 1980s’ down
 to the fact that, ‘as you get more and more initiatives, and as people get more and more
 bogged down, membership attendance drops away’ (interview 2). This was supported by a
 Regional Officer who commented that:

                        The pattern of teachers’ working life has changed so much, far more
                        meetings, far more work for teachers to do in the evenings, they
                        haven’t got the time (interview 3, NUT Regional Officer).

    The issue of time constraints is not a straightforward one, however. Some interviewees
 argued that time can be used as an excuse, and can always be found for the activities we
 believe in (interview 33, NUT Local Association Member). Whilst this may be true, the

intensification of work since the 1980s, and the sharp growth in workload, cannot be denied.
In this respect, some teachers argued that what they lacked was not so much ‘spare time’, as
the time at work to reflect, discuss concerns, collectivise them and make them a priority for
union action:

             We’re just so bogged down in what we’re doing day to day we don’t
             stand back. I don’t think that its apathy so much as needing that
             time to really take on board the fact of what’s happening and what
             the implications are likely to be (interview 14, NUT Member).

The significance of a lack of time for union participation is therefore greater than simply
lacking the ‘spare’ time for involvement. The perception of a lack of time, whether actual or
generated by an intensified labour process, diminishes the discursive spaces in which union
members can reflect upon and discuss concerns. These spaces include both the traditional
union meeting, and more informal spaces within the workplace. Commenting on the current
situation, the NUT state that:

             There is strong evidence to suggest that teachers experience a lack
             of time for reflection and also lack professional space for talking with
             and learning from colleagues (NUT 2004, p. 22).

Participation studies have indicated that spaces for communication and debate are essential
resources for mobilisation in themselves (Leicht 1989; Zuckerman 2005). Their absence also
indirectly relates to the problem of membership non-participation in the sense that these
spaces are key resources for building alternative, collective and political, union identities,
which can challenge consumerist interpretations. It is only within discursive spaces that the
collective identities, on which all social movement mobilisation rests, can be formed and
reproduced (Melucci 1989; Strydom 2000, p. 55). Educational literature on modernisation also
suggests that there are additional reasons why these collective spaces (and indeed, solidarity
amongst teachers), may decline in restructured workplaces. These include shifts away from
traditions of collegiality amongst staff and schools (Tomlinson 2001, p.108), and moves
towards an individualised, competitive, professionalism for teachers (Merson 2000, p. 158-9).

There are clearly some fundamental reasons why membership participation in unions may
have declined in the UK since the 1980s. Even before this, union activism came in ebbs and
flows, and academic concerns over membership non-participation appeared periodically. This
is reflected in the context of the NUT by studies focusing on a participation ‘crisis’ (Manzer
1970; Roy 1968). The shift towards service models of trade unionism, in the post-1980s
hostile political climate, is perhaps the most significant factor in explaining low levels of
membership participation today. Service models foster an individualist and consumerist
interpretation of union membership, which is particularly hard to shift in the teaching sector
where workplace insurance and legal services are a key part of workers’ protection. The
problem with consumerist versions of membership is that they rule out active participation
from the outset. Modern-day union organisations may be able to continuing functioning in this
context, but it is far from ideal when it comes to the capacity to mobilise politically, and, further,
to negotiate with the strike weapon in tact. In order to mount a challenge to these obstacles
union members need; firstly, resources of time to address them; and secondly, discursive
spaces in which they can construct alternative, participatory, versions of union membership. It
is exactly these resources which are undermined by public sector restructuring. Modernisation
may well relate to union mobilisation potential, but the case of the NUT gives further impetus
to the call for a more through examination of the constraints that union members face in
participation, despite their concerns and attitudes towards the union.
   Undermining union power on a macro-political level was a significant part of the
Conservative policy for restructuring work under the New Public Management (as evidenced
in the 1984-7 teacher strikes and the 1988 education act that followed). New Labour’s
modernisation policies continue to affect the power of unions. This still happens on a macro-
political level, as moves towards the further divorcing of commissioning and delivering
services like education indicate. This will place teacher unions is a fundamentally altered
situation if the local education authorities they traditionally negotiate with are further divorced

from delivering education, and private sponsors, of, for example, academy schools, step in.
But under New Labour the power of public sector unions is also affected, more and more, at
the micro-level of the workplace. Through work intensification, a repackaged marketisation,
and career remodelling, public sector modernisation ignites workers’ grievances, whilst, at the
same time, undermining some of the very conditions on which organised resistance and trade
union mobilisation depend.

I am indebted to the Labour Research Department and the NUT for allowing me access to the
survey dataset ‘NUT Membership Participation’ (2004), and to the ESRC who funded the
research project.

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  In 2004, the NUT established a ‘Working Party on Union Democracy’ aimed at finding ways
to increase membership participation within the union.
  This was evidenced most recently in the teacher strikes of 1984-7, the aftermath of which
perhaps accounts somewhat for the present situation.
  77 percent of the sample were women, accurately reflecting the proportion of women in the
NUT overall (76 percent). 3.3. percent of the sample were over 60 years old, 60 percent of the
sample were over 40, and 21 percent were aged 31-40 years. The sample was 96.9 percent
white. The mean average duration as a teacher was 18 years, and as an NUT member, 16
years. 58.6 per cent worked in primary schools, 39.5 per cent in secondary schools, and 1.9
per cent in middle schools. These proportions reflect the bias towards primary teachers in the
NUT’s overall membership.
  Eight were aged 23-28 years, five were aged 31-38 years, nine were aged 40-49 years, and
twenty-three were aged 50-59 years. 19 were male, 26 were female. All interviewees were
white. Sixteen of the interviewees were rank and file members of the NUT and the rest held
official union positions ranging from School Representative (3), to Division/Local Association
Secretary (11), Division/Local Association Committee Member (8), Regional Officer (3) and
National Executive Member (4). Eight worked in primary schools, twenty-one in secondary
schools, three in middle schools, four in special needs/behaviour support. One was a supply
teacher and one a retired teacher, whilst six were full time union officers. Interviewees were
drawn from ten out of the twenty-seven NUT Electoral Districts, including city and rural areas.
These districts were mostly concentrated in the North West and South West regions of
  Private finance initiatives/public-private partnerships (see Flynn 1999).
  Local Education Authorities.
  Trade union density is the proportion of all people in employment who are members of trade
  Following the teacher strikes of 1984-7, the Conservative Government introduced the
Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Act (2 March 1987). This Act legislated out of existence the
Burnham Committees, on which the NUT had been represented in national pay negotiations
since 1918 (Seifert 1987, p. 250).
  For example, 57 percent of members occasionally read the NUT noticeboard and over a
third frequently do so, 57 percent frequently read the NUT’s magazine The Teacher, whilst 60
percent occasionally read other material sent by the NUT. The exception to these high levels
was the NUT website, which two thirds of members said they never used.

  Snape, E. and Redman, T. 2004 'Exchange or Covenant? The Nature of the Member-
Union Relationship', Industrial Relations 43(4): 855-872.


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