The Socialist 12 November 2008 |
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Scotland: Victory for the Vale of Leven Four
The SNP-led West Dunbartonshire council has dropped an investigation into four teachers from Vale of Leven Academy who refused to cross a picket line during recent industrial action by local government workers in pursuit of a decent wage settlement.
West Dunbartonshire council worker
This victory not only vindicates the actions of the teachers but highlights the importance of swift and unified action by the trade union movement.
The investigation, in part, was based on the charge that at least one of the teachers had joined the picket line and alleged intimidation of other teaching staff. However, only two teachers had been officially identified as feeling intimidated... after some encouragement by senior management.
This was the same senior management that scuttled around teachers the day before the action, telling them that they would be disciplined if they refused to cross the picket line, despite the fact that no such decision had been taken at that time by the director of education.
This action by West Dunbartonshire council, ably supported by senior management, had caused such outrage in the school that over 40 teachers had signed a petition saying that in no way had they been intimidated and that the investigation should be dropped immediately.
This local authority was trying to bully and intimidate its employees by stretching the truth to a tissue of lies but it has rebounded on them.
Support for the four teachers came in from trade unionists across the country. West Dunbartonshire council unions gave their full support, as did the leader of the Labour group.
Two local councillors issued a press statement claiming that the teachers were being victimised. This provoked a response from the director of education, saying that they should not have made such public statements.
Clearly, this is a new approach to democracy where paid officials tell elected representatives what they can and cannot say.
One of the four teachers had been informed by the head of legal services that he had breached council protocol by emailing councillors about the disciplinary investigation and asking them for their position on it. He was warned about his future conduct.
The janitor of the same school, who recently organised a meeting of 800 local government workers to complain about West Dunbartonshire council reneging on a Single Status agreement, has also been informed that he is to face a disciplinary investigation for writing to the local press about the issue.
A witch-hunt or what?
Management are only as strong as workers are prepared to allow. It is clear that other councils throughout Scotland will have been watching to see if West Dunbartonshire's attacks on its own workers would be successful.
Such public scrutiny of the attempted victimisation, the solidarity of the teachers within the school and the email protests from around the country were key to all charges being dropped.
The campaign ensured that this was no longer an internal issue of management intimidation.
In the words of one brother in Unite-TGWU from Manchester in his protest to the director of education: "The disciplinary process against these four teachers is not only an action more befitted to rogue employers of the 19th century than the public sector of the 21st century - but also an embarrassment to yourselves as this now circulates through the trade union movement".