Absent 'silent majority' speaking the loudest
It was those who one delegate referred to as the "silent majority" who roared loudest at the ASTI conference yesterday.
They weren't even at the conference, but they are members, and their wishes rang loud and clear, carried to the conference in Killarney by shop stewards and branch members. When schools return after the Easter break next week, this so-called 'silent majority', the rank and file, are waiting to hear from their convention representatives just exactly what the plan is.
Things were a lot clearer this time last year. At the end of the conference there was a plan, decisions were taken leading to a series of actions, such as withdrawal from the 33 Croke Park hours and two strike days last autumn. Then another decision to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties, all with a view to forcing the Government's hand.
It was a multi-layered strategy, but, to date, at least, it has backfired. In the case of supervision and substitution, rather than not do it, ASTI members are doing the work for no reward.
ASTI members have made big financial sacrifices, gifting the Government about €20m in the current school year. This was as a result of pay losses due to school closures and non-payment of increments to about 10,000 members who are not getting an increment due in 2016/17, because they are outside the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), as well as not collecting other pay gains of the LRA.
But what seems to be hurting most is the fact that recently qualified ASTI teachers, those who started since 2016, will not get a permanent contract for next September. They have to wait another two years, another penalty for not accepting the LRA.
These teachers are also among those suffering the biggest pay loss. The very group in whose name the battle is being fought is making the biggest sacrifice.
The cost is high, too high for some, with reports of many leaving and joining the TUI, although that is not supposed to happen. But even as they reported their concerns, delegates said they were still up for a fight. They want to know is there a strategy and what is it.
So, they forced an unplanned conference discussion.