We had been sitting in my study for a while, The Wykehamist using the computer on my desk, me with my laptop. The work we were doing was much easier with two screens, as we were cross-referencing and checking different documents on a website which had layer after layer of pages.
I was meant to be in charge of the list of items we were checking, writing notes, and annotating the spreadsheet after The Wykehamist had dug through the pages of the website to check the seemingly small, yet in reality hugely important, details and had given me feedback on what he had found.
It was tedious work, requiring concentration, and which stretched my appallingly lacking Excel skills. I have been known in the past to have got so frustrated when using spreadsheets when not having Mini-Me around to remind me what the formulae are for various calculations or how to tweak the presentation of the numbers, that I have actually resorted to printing the document, somewhat defiantly presenting the finished spreadsheet with the grid lines drawn using a pencil and a ruler and the answers completed using a calculator. I’m not even half-kidding.
It didn’t really help that I was also trying to click between different tabs on my screen without The Wykehamist noticing that I was reading the Daily Mail and having an iMessaging conversation with someone at the same time.
“Okay..we’ll do two more points off this list and then I’ll make a cup of tea!” I announced.
The Wykehamist didn’t even turn from his screen, but just started to laugh.
“What?!” I was genuinely puzzled.
I’m used to The Wykehamist laughing at me and I am never totally sure why, so I wasn’t really expecting an explanation. He just claims I amuse him, at which point my self –preservation kicks in and I never think it’s a good idea to question him further.
His laughter continued as he typed, leading me to feel the need to defend myself.
“What? We’ve been working for forty-five minutes now! We should have a break!”
My indignation just dug me an even deeper hole and led to more laughter.
“Spot the teacher! You’ve done a whole forty-five minutes of work and you need a cup of tea and a biscuit! What if I say that I want to carry on? Will you make a strike placard and walk up and down the stairs with it?”
I swallowed a comment about wrapping any placards I made round his head, and his mocking continued for a while, with comments about the bell not having gone and questions as to whether I needed another 8 week holiday to recover from my less than an hour’s work. I ignored it, being more focused on subtly trying to push the latest edition of the magazine I get from my teachers’ union out of view on the desk he was sitting at. There was no need to hand over ammunition.
I didn’t say anything – I realised silence was the best response – stood up and made a great show of stretching and shaking out my legs, which had been curled up underneath me.
“Right. Regular or green tea?”
The teacher had won. And without the intervention of my union.
There is no obligation for a teacher to join a union, but in my view, you’d be silly not to. As a teacher in our litigious world, I feel better in the knowledge that I have access to professional legal advice, financial support in legal issues and trained negotiators should I ever need them. I insure my house, my car, my health, even my gas boiler – why wouldn’t I insure myself?
Teaching is an unusual profession, in that it does not have one single union representing all employees – teachers have the choice of a variety. I belong to the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), which tends to be the favoured union amongst independent school teachers and university lecturers and is the smallest of the three main teaching unions. The NUT (National Union of Teachers) is the second largest, with the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers) having the majority of members and generally being regarded as the most militant.
Trades Unions were established in 1922 by the Labour politician, Ernest Bevin, with his formation of the Transport and General Workers Union. Bevin had been orphaned as a child and had little formal education, starting work as a labourer at the age of eleven and doing various jobs during his life, including being a Baptist preacher, which is how he learnt to speak publically. He eventually gave this up to become a full-time Labour activist. Bevin believed in getting material benefits for Union members through direct negotiations with employers at a time where workers had few rights and employment law was lacking or non-existant.
It is worth pointing out that his view of strike action was that it should be used absolutely as a last resort. These days, that view is even more relevant. I have only ever worked in the independent sector, at expensive, selective schools. I have no need to consider strike action and would, most likely, have my contract terminated should I ever choose to do that. In this case, I admit that these circumstances would appear to make my rather scathing opinion of striking an easy one to uphold.
Ernest Bevin was, and still is, highly regarded amongst Labour politicians. During the Second World War he was Minister for Labour and National Service and in the post-war government held the position of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He was well-known for his stubbornness and his directness, which often offended people. He didn’t much care about that, as his straightforward approach was the only way for him to achieve much needed protection for workers in the 1920s and later to fulfill a key role in Churchill’s government. He really was a force to be reckoned with.
Having successfully pushed the magazine under a pile of papers, I went downstairs and made some tea, making the compromise of taking it back to the study to drink whilst we continued to work, the laughter having abated for the time being. The Wykehamist pretends to have to tolerate things about me that he has strong feelings about – the fact I’m from Birmingham; I speak French and German, having spent years at university studying them both (either would be bad enough, but both?); I think Alex Ferguson is rather a yob; and I am fairly certain that the Devil invented marzipan. The latest discovery that I actually belong to a Union was going to provide him with hours of entertainment and left-wing jokes at my expense.
I sat there with my tea, clicking through the pages of the newspaper and trying my best with the spreadsheet, waiting for the laughing to start. I knew I had to get in first. Providing The Wykehamist with easy material was the most tactical approach, so that any further teasing seemed lazy and obvious, and therefore easily deflected.
“Hey..you know one side of my family is called Cherry, right?”
“Er..yes..?” He knew this was going somewhere. Bear in mind that The Wykehamist is extremely smart and knows British history and politics inside out.
“Well..I’ve never told you this. The other side of my family is named Bevin.”
This time, he was the silent one. My love of the French and hatred of marzipan was fading into insignificance as the reason for my stubbornness became increasingly clear, thanks to my (Great great great) Uncle Ernest.