As he retires from his long career at St Pius X College Chatswood, teacher Mark Anderson reflects on his 35 years of active union membership.
Mark Anderson joined the Independent Teachers Association (now the IEU) in 1986 when he was “fresh from art school” and in his first teaching job, at St Pius X College in Chatswood. “Joining seemed the same as getting your keys, it just went with the gig,” Anderson said.
Soon after, some colleagues invited him to an after-work union meeting at the Gordon Rugby Club. “I remember a large room packed with teachers,” Anderson said. “The tone was serious, there were speakers, and a vote was taken. At the time I knew nothing about industrial issues – it’s not something you looked at in a teaching degree. After the meeting I felt I had to deal with these deficiencies.”
Anderson set about finding other unionists at work to learn from, including Geoff Taylor and John Quessy (who went on to became IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary in 2012). Some years later, Anderson became a Chapter rep. Attending a training weekend not long after, he says the skills he gained during those two days have served him ever since, including:
- Call the union – they know what to do (and if they don’t, they’ll find out).
- Learn about negotiating – be informed, know what outcomes you want, offer reasonable solutions.
- Learn good timing – know when to be patient and when to let go.
Strength and successes
“When I think of our successful campaigns since the late ‘80s, they are many and significant,” Anderson said. “Not least the recent gains for the early childhood education and care sector [this year the IEU won pay rises for early childhood teachers ranging from 3.3% to 13.6%]. This was a case of knowing when to hang on. When I’m asked why join a union, this is the example I give.”
Yet the occasional disappointment may come your way, Anderson says. “Know that some solutions will fall short,” he said. “Union membership is a great strength but not a silver bullet.”
While teacher shortages are now making the headlines, “the union has always said decent pay and workloads are needed to encourage enough of the right people to the profession”, Anderson said.
He is adamant that a strong union is vital for defending teachers against the shifting sands of education policies. “The union is the only link between education workers and those who design and deliver policies and it can only be effective with strong membership,” he said. “The union’s role is crucial in making changes in education work for staff and students.
Active and involved
Anderson has served as President of the IEU’s Northern Suburbs Sub Branch, and he considered it an honour to represent members at Council. “It is encouraging to see the involvement of younger members particularly,” he said.
He’s a big advocate of getting involved in the IEU. “Sub Branch and Council meetings have greatly broadened my view of teaching – I value the discussions with other reps and union staff over the years.”
Anderson ends on a note of thanks: to Organisers Patrick Devery, Marilyn Jervis, Megan Bruce, Ann-Maree McEwan, Jackie Groom, Gloria Taylor and Sandra Wright, as well as to both union leadership and administrative staff for getting the big picture and the small details right over the years.
“I am also forever thankful to my colleagues who took me to that first meeting at the Gordon Rugby Club,” he said.