October 2014        

Job Bridge for teachers:
Not just a union Struggle

Edmund O’Neill

When news of Job Bridge being used for hiring teaching staff hit the air waves in September, Joe Duffy’s hotline was sizzling. The spread of “internship” culture had reached the gates of the public sector, and a lot of people, especially newly qualified teachers, were up in arms. During the rest of the week shows like “Prime Time” pushed out debates on the issue.
      The arguments for and against internship for teachers is not that much different from those regarding any other internship scheme, other than the fact that this is a profession that educates our youth, and the employer is the state in most cases.
      The Department of Education has a budget for paying a certain number of teachers for teaching a certain number of pupils. Teaching staffs in schools are allocated in accordance with the number of pupils attending the school, with a normal ratio of 28:1 for primary schools and between 18:1 and 23:1 in secondary, depending on the type of school.
      With continuous “austerity” budgets over the last few years, the department’s budgets have been shrinking, while the pressures in schools have continued to rise. Some schools are surviving on a month-by-month basis and in some cases are only kept open with cash contributions from the public, without which electricity and heating bills wouldn’t be paid.
      I have no doubt that the posts being advertised on Job Bridge are put up by principals who don’t have the budget to hire the extra staff but are in desperate need of them. I also have no doubt that the people who take up the jobs don’t see any other option available to them (other than emigration), with the number of paid teaching jobs advertised being so small, especially in rural areas.
      A lot of people who take up an internship job will say, “Well, sure it’s better than sitting around”; and generally getting up to go to work every morning rather than being idle is far healthier, both physically and mentally. But once a teacher is in the school the reality is that, however narrow the brief for their official role, they have to be able to adapt to the circumstances. Principals, like any employers, will want the most out of an employee, and in practice that will mean a teacher doing the work of their colleagues but being paid only a small fraction of the wage.
      The additional benefit for newly qualified teachers is that they will be building up towards their 300 teaching hours to become fully qualified. Without those hours they cannot be recognised by the Teaching Council, with which a teacher has to be registered in order to be hired and paid.
      On both sides there are clear incentives to advertise and to take up a Job Bridge teaching post. In fact in general there are clear incentives to take up any Job Bridge post. The employee might not exactly like it, “But sure it’s better than sitting around.”
      Yes, Job Bridge is exploitative; yes, employers have abused and will continue to abuse it; and yes, everything should be done to expose those who use and abuse the scheme.
      But is that all our class can hope for? The fact that Job Bridge can be extended into both public and private employment is further evidence that we are in a race to the bottom. Where once this state interned citizens politically, now the state has interned them economically.
      But at the end of the day, what are we opposing, both within the trade union movement and from forces on the left? The teachers’ unions—INTO, ASTI, and TUI—have come out strongly against the scheme, arguing that it is exploitative, and have directed their members not to take up or support the scheme.
      I think it is important that new teachers join their respective unions, and continue to keep Job Bridge out of teaching. The reality, however, is that it is the economic crisis and the continued austerity that has called for the budgets not only of state departments but of many businesses to be cut. These cuts will not be reversed; the Government and employers seized an opportunity to pass legislation that brought the cost of labour down. Job Bridge is a product of the 2008 crisis, and the root of that crisis in Ireland lies mainly in the blanket bank guarantee and the socialisation of corporate private debt and its loading onto the taxpayer.
      Now we are in a place where our unions have long ago forgotten the political and ideological struggle (with exceptions, of course) and concentrate on the economic struggle of their particular trade. If it is boiled down to an economic struggle, we as a class can’t win. We will be divided, and we will be conquered.
      Even more worryingly, with all the talk of left unity not one party on the left—in which I would include Sinn Féin, the Workers’ Party, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, People Before Profit, the United Left (Alliance), and the Anti-Austerity Alliance—has seriously taken up the issue of the odious debt as the central political element of all the austerity and other measures—such as Job Bridge, and the privatisation of utilities and state companies—that we are all now facing and that could unify our people. They again have more or less taken up economic struggles, to boycott this or bin that—a “down with this sort of thing” feel to it all.
      Only the CPI, from the very beginning, when the “bail-out” was agreed, has kept a definite and clear link with the odious debt and austerity in the slogan “Repudiate the debt.” It’s not the peoples debt; permanent debt = permanent austerity; permanent austerity = permanent poverty.
      In every issue of Socialist Voice over the last few years the party has maintained this line of analysis; and if we look at the trajectory before and after the bail-out it is hard to argue against it, but easy to ignore.
      The CPI does not say this with any notion of uniqueness: it is actually a sad state of affairs that, either through opportunism, electioneering or, even worse, anti-communism, a great force has not been mobilised around the repudiation and rejection of the odious debt. “Enough is enough” just isn’t enough.
      We as a people, as workers, as teachers, nurses, engineers, trades people, as trade unionists, as activists, as socialists, as communists, must make Job Bridge and every other regressive measure not just an economic struggle but a political struggle against the class of big business, of the monopolies of the EU and the United States, the owners of industry and their political stooges here in Ireland and the EU.
      There is no short cut to justice, just a hard-fought struggle that needs clear political education and leadership.

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