Mr Short 's attitude to the teachers pay dispute is very strange. Two weeks ago in the House of Commons he annoyed the teachers by claiming that they had been offered more this year than was actually the case. Last Tuesday, referring to the teachers' strikes, he is reported to have said ‘I do not condemn the teachers at all for what they are doing.’
This must surely be the first time a minister, in the middle of negotiations to which he is a party, has condoned strike action which is in effect directed at the government of which he is a member. For it is the government, and not the local authorities which has the decisive say on how much can be offered to the teachers.
On Wednesday Mr Short in a radio interview said, ‘there is no reason why teachers should not go on strike, everybody else can.’ This remark is typical of the feeble attitude of the Labour Government. First the teachers had to negotiate against the background of a compulsory incomes policy—to which the Conservatives are opposed. The negotiations were not therefore free. Then the Labour Government give more money to those who can back their large pay claims with strike action. This policy has led many people to consider striking, who would otherwise have pursued their claims on the grounds of the merit and justice of their cause. [end p1]
Mr Short said last week that the teachers ought to be paid ‘an awful lot more’, but the country could not afford it. Well, that is a frank admission after five years of Labour Government.
Mr Short also said that there was no real shortage of teachers in the country. That is a very surprising statement for, according to his own Department's statistics, there is a shortage of 40,000 teachers in our schools, and there are nearly 700,000 children in classes of over forty.
It is not surprising that the teachers are disillusioned with the Labour Government which promised them so much. In 1964 the Labour Party's election manifesto said that a new salary structure would be negotiated. In 1966 Labour said they would ‘improve the teacher's status in society.’ Yet here we are in 1969 with a Labour Government still in office, and for the first time in our history, we are facing a teachers' strike on an unprecedented scale. ‘I do not think it will have any results, any effect, or any impact,’ said Mr Short. He should say that again—to the parents of the 150,000 children who will receive no education for the next fortnight.