The push for a 30% pay rise came from the grassroots. With a much larger and more representative executive committee than any other union, this was very obvious. The magnificent 12,000 strong demonstration outside the Dáil, and the subsequent decision to escalate the action hammered this message home.
However, it would be silly to ignore the fact that many ASTI members in the past did not see themselves as any sort of militant trade unionists. This made some of them vulnerable to arguments about 'professionalism' rather than trade unionism.
The ASTI leaders have been seeking support for their pay claim on the basis that teachers are a 'special case'. One WSM member reported how a minority of ASTI members in his school were hoping that PPF could be shored up. This, they felt, would allow the government to meet their claim because there would be less chance of other workers following their lead and winning sizeable increases.
If most workers adopt this silly sectional type of thinking we won't be able to count on each other for solidarity. Or to put it another way, we might as well just say it out straight - if the bosses, government and most union leaders stay united they can easily pick us off one by one without too much hassle.
It's not about 'special cases'. We should not forget that the real division in society is between those of us who only have our ability to work, and the small minority of parasites who live off our work.
'Social partnership' is meant to obscure this, and convince us that we share a common interest with our employers. It is a political strategy to strengthen the idea that the way society is presently run is the only option, that there is no alternative.
It is not only bosses and politicians who push this propaganda. Most union leaders are just as energetic in selling' partnership'. The determination of some of our union leaders to save PPF is aptly demonstrated by the INTO and TUI leaders who urged their members not to support their colleagues in ASTI but instead put their faith in the proposed 'benchmarking' procedure.
So, who will set the 'benchmarked' pay rates? Four bosses and two ex-trade union bureaucrats. Phil Flynn is now a banker and Billy Atlee, now a member of the Eircom board of directors, is the man who refused to support the teachers during their dispute in 1986/87. And don't we all remember the bonuses given to Eircom directors after they made a dog's dinner of the company's floatation on the stock exchange.
Many teachers will remember him for his comment that they "expect to use the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme like an ATM machine". Trusting people like this to come up with a worthwhile pay rise (after the initial offer to get people on board) is a bit like expecting Bobby Molloy to turn up as guest speaker at a Taxi Federation dinner dance.
The leadership of SIPTU are among the most fervent defenders of the absurdly misnamed Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. Holding down pay increases is the central part of PPF, yet even in their own union the membership have been getting wage increases well over the limit. Not all of us believe that making our bosses even richer is in our best interest! These are a few of the settlements secured before the 2% this year and once off sum of 1% next year that are supposed to compensate us for inflation: