Is the union too hierarchal?
One criticism I have of the union is that it is far too hierarchal. In order to get anywhere near an influential position, one has to be able to get through a number of obstacles. Branch meetings can be difficult depending on the area you attend, the CEC representative at the helm, and even how loud your voice is! If one manages to get on the ladder, internal politics, going against the grain, and so on, can further make like difficult. What do the presidential candidates think about this?
I agree 100%. It’s one of the main reasons, as I’ve said above, that I decided to contest this election. The ‘democratic deficit’ that I referred to in question 1, that gap between the members and the leadership, is a real turn-off for many people. The way the union has evolved in recent times means that members find it more and more difficult to have their voices heard, to have the issues that matter to them raised, listened to and acted on. I don’t think by any means this is confined to the INTO. I think the trade union movement as a whole suffers from the same problem
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Our union structures are actually quite democratic and allow for the union to be much less top-down. But when the communication is one-way, when dissent and debate is not encouraged resulting in poor engagement from members, it allows that hierarchical top-down system to exist. CEC members are District representatives, elected to represent the views of the members of their District at a national level. To often too many members of the CEC see their role as being to sell the leadership’s view to the members and they forget that they are supposed to be a conduit for all members’ views, and should encourage and welcome two-way communication.
As President I intend to return the union to its bottom up intention and to raise participation, thus strengthening the membership’s input and giving members back their voice and control.
The best democratic organisations have leadership teams at every level – local, regional and national/international. Members in these leadership positions are elected by their peers. Traditionally a hierarch was an official in some church structures. I suppose the INTO could be likened to organised religion, in that we are organised in 4000 schools across 32 counties and have 180 branches dotted across the island of Ireland, but I think the comparison with the church ends there-
church ceremonies are generally much more agreeable than INTO meetings! We certainly do not have leaders who have rule and authority over the members – our General Secretary and General Treasurer are answerable to the CEC and our Northern Secretary is answerable to Northern committee. These officials may be replaced at any time should our members wish to remove them. Our executive is answerable to our Annual Congress. Every position on the CEC is open to any member each year. Our National Committees advise the CEC. Positions on these committees are also open to all members. Our branch and district officers and our staff representatives are elected and answerable to their members. In recent years young teachers, who had not yet become members have been invited to attend INTO events, at which they were then encouraged to join the union.
So I don’t accept that INTO is far too hierarchical. In fact I would argue that the election for INTO President is proof of that. There are very few democratic organisations, whose rules would allow a member who had never stood for election to any of the national committees to run for the presidency.