Major victory for INTO union grassroots as leadership issues directive against JobBridge


In a statement issued after a meeting of the union’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) today (Thursday 17th November), the Irish National Teachers Organisation has said that the INTO “is not in a position to support the JobBridge initiative” and “will be directing members not to participate in the JobBridge scheme.” The issuing of this directive is a major victory for grassroots organising within the INTO.  When JobBridge was first announced by the government during the summer, and when the Department of Education and Science issued a circular on how it would be applied in schools in September, the union leadership’s first reaction was to refuse to issue a directive.  This despite the fact that it was clear to everyone that JobBridge was simply FAS’s Work Placement Programme (WPP) by a different name.

A special Congress of the INTO last February had forced an embarrassing defeat on the union leadership and had insisted that a directive be issued instructing members not to co-operate with the Work Placement Programme.  At the time, the union leadership had found itself completely isolated and the vote at the Special Congress, attended by approx 800 delegates, was about 98% against WPP (see

Members across the country – both Newly Qualified Teachers, who would be most directly affected, and the union membership in general – reacted with incredulity to the refusal to issue an immediate directive on JobBridge.  Not alone was this seen as an insult to young teachers who would be expected to work for nothing as a way to ingratiate themselves in the hope of getting a job.  It was also a clear affront to democracy within the union – a blatant attempt was being made to overturn the massive mandate of rejection from February’s Special Congress.

The union leadership embarked on a round of so-called ‘consultation’ with the membership.  This ‘consultation’ showed up a huge democratic deficit in many areas of the union.  It was one that has also been evident in the discussion of other issues over the last number of years and which must be addressed if we are to re-build our union as a democratic members-owned and members-led organisation. 

The issue I’m referring to is a tendency by both the elected officials and the majority of Central Executive Committee (CEC) members to refer constantly to individual phone-calls, e-mails or conversations with members.  In the case of JobBridge, much play was made about small numbers of Newly Qualified Teachers who had been in touch with head office or with certain CEC members to say that they would welcome the introduction of JobBridge as it would allow them to get their probation done and then they could emigrate to look for work.

However at meetings – both of NQTs and of the general membership – this view was rarely expressed.  Instead meeting after meeting across the country where the issue was put to a vote, JobBridge was overwhelmingly rejected.  Yet as recently as last weekend at a Special Conference of Branch and District Officers a number of CEC members were still spinning anecdotes about individuals who they claimed were pleading with them to be allowed to participate in this scheme.

But a union is a collective organisation.  We make our decisions in a collective manner, and the only views that should hold weight are those expressed and voted on at meetings. 

Those of us who opposed JobBridge and the exploitation inherent in it recognised the difficulties faced by Newly Qualified Teachers who cannot gain employment and who are desperate to complete their probation.  We discussed ways in which this problem could be addressed and District 14 produced a leaflet which outlined a number of possible alternatives.  We insisted, however, that having people work for nothing could not form part of any solution.  We insisted also that the only way in which a decision on this or any other issue should be made was through a democratic vote at meetings according to the rules of the union.

Several districts of the union backed calls for a Special Congress of the union to discuss the issuing of a directive.  That Special Congress will not now be necessary as the CEC has bowed to the inevitable and decided to spare itself the humiliation of another defeat.  The issuing of this directive is a victory for grassroots organising.  Instead of moaning and complaining when a decision was made that we didn’t like we got organised, held meetings, signed petitions, passed motions and organised to win.

The idea of organising to win seems to be something that has been lost on our trade union leadership in recent times.  For the most part they see protest as being about expressing our disapproval.  We – the union membership – should take heart from small victories such as this JobBridge one and we should apply the lessons learned to other battles both within the union and as union members organising to resist attacks on our pay and cuts to the education service.

If we organise, we can win.  Let’s build on this victory.

WORDS: Gregor Kerr (Chair District 14 Irish National Teachers Organisation - personal capacity)