Parents could be the deciding factor in teachers’ strikes

Labor disputes are more often than not battles for the support of the wider population – those not directly involved. Both parties know that if the Court of Public Opinion rules against them, their case is usually no longer tenable. Capitulation follows.

This was true even for the most famous union campaigns. As far back as the 1980s, for instance, when the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill, had become a public hate figure, Margaret Thatcher knew she was onto a winner.

And so the National Education Union — whose members provide an essential, national public service, much like those who powered coal-fired power plants 30 years ago — should be on their toes as it continues its campaign of school closures in an effort to provide better conditions for teachers. to get. , that it will be the non-combatants who will determine the outcome.

This isn’t exactly an original thought – indeed, I wrote something similar just a few weeks ago – but what’s new is that we can now get a sense of where the public stands on this hugely important issue. Do they support the teachers or do they support the government?

Polls recently conducted by Public First, where I am a director, may give us an answer to these questions, just as the country faces a rolling series of strikes over the next month, including next week in Wales.

Our survey found that the general public is marginally opposed to the teachers’ cause, with 43 percent saying their action is justified and 47 percent not.

It is crucial in this winter of discontent to compare this figure with the other professions taking action; our poll showed that sympathy for nurses was much higher: 59 percent of respondents supported their pickets, while only 36 percent supported the railroad workers.

But hidden in our data is an even more important number: the strike support of the 14 million parents of school-aged children.

This statistic is super important because it’s the group whose opinion is most likely to decisively change. Those who are largely unaffected are unlikely to be persuaded to change their stance. But if, on the other hand, you’ve had to cancel a bunch of important work meetings for the fourth or fifth time because you have to take care of your kids at home, chances are it’s really starting to gnaw at you.

But what we found was somewhat counterintuitive – and definitely important. We found that parents are currently more likely to support the strikes than their non-parental neighbors (by 47 percent to 40 percent).

Why, then, should the group most affected by the strikes be the most supportive?

There are probably two intertwined reasons. The first is ingrained: that, strikes aside, the younger you are, the more likely you are to be politically left-leaning. If most parents are in their late twenties to late forties, they will sympathize much more with the unions than their boomer parents.

The second point is more subtle and perhaps even more difficult to prove: I believe parents today, possibly due to Covid, feel a stronger sense of common cause with their children’s teachers. Perhaps more pronounced in primary than secondary, there is certainly a connection between mothers and fathers and their school in a way that may not have been there before the pandemic. The communication channels are better and there is a better understanding (thanks to homeschooling) of how difficult it is to be a teacher.

In short, parents tend to believe teachers when they explain how stressful their job is and how poorly they are paid for it. So far, the unions are doing well.

But what the leaders really need to get out of all this data is that this labor dispute is at stake. It can go either way. If they are careful in their communication and keep telling their story – just as their members seem to have done with the parents of their students – they could win the battle for the hearts and minds of the public. They also have to make an effort not to test the patience of the mothers and fathers who currently believe their cause is just.

But there is also clear enough in our polls to suggest to Conservative ministers that if they can hold the line and wait for the strikes to get heavier, voters’ views could turn definitively against teachers.

There really is a lot to play for.

Leave a Comment