I am a local officer of Leeds NUT. One of our biggest sources of casework is workplace bullying. It is also one of the most depressing and frustrating aspects of our work because it is very difficult to protect individual members from systematic intimidation by school managers, and the problem grows like a malignant tumour.
Recently I found myself sitting in the reception area of a Leeds secondary school staring at a wallposter which stridently proclaimed the legend “The power of me can tackle bullying in Leeds”. In the previous weeks I had frequently sat in traffic jams and stared at this worthy message writ large on the backs of buses etc. Usually it left me pretty numb, but on this particular occasion it enraged me.
I was waiting to meet a member who has been bullied to the point of resignation by her headteacher, a serial abuser of his staff and the blue eyed boy of the local authority. Yes, they do know about him. They studiously ignore his appalling behaviour because he represents the kind of manager who can seriously kick ass and lick those feckless classroom workers into line. He is not the only one.
This endemic and rancidly stupid attitude costs this country dear. Research by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology indicates that over one third of all stress related illness is directly attributable to bullying in the workplace. Bullying costs employers 80 million working days per year and up to £2billion in lost revenue. Work related stress illness costs the UK an estimated £3.8 billion per year.
I’m not too bothered about the cost to the employers. I am bothered about the human costs to our members.
Thousands of employees who lose their confidence and self respect, who often lose their livelihoods and who suffer serious mental damage and even physical illness. We can’t protect these members and we can’t deal with the problem on a piecemeal casework basis. Successful actions for damages are too difficult to achieve and too rare to positively affect the deep rooted culture of bullying.
As trade unionists we have to take on the responsibility of shifting attitudes to this oppressive culture. We need to promote an attitude of collective self defence in every school, every hospital, shop, workyard and factory. Through every kind of workers’ action we need to force bullies to change their behaviour and demonstrate to employers that systematic intimidation and humiliation are not acceptable management tools.