State school teachers and support staff in Victoria, Australia, are about to start a series of rolling stoppages and non-strike sanctions to win pay rises. Their strike on 5 September was also joined by 5000 private-school teachers, striking in defiance of a ban by the official industrial arbiter, Fair Work Australia.
The report below is adapted with thanks from one by Lucy Honan in the Australian socialist magazine Solidarity.
An unprecedented 40,000 Victorian teachers and Education Support Staff stopped work on Wednesday 5 September. It was the second, and the biggest, strike in the campaign to win more than Victorian [Liberal] Premier Ted Baillieu's offer of a 2.5 per cent pay increase.
[Fifteen thousand teachers] debated the way forward for the campaign at the strike meeting at the Rod Laver Arena. [Unlike most union strike rallies in Britain, the strike meeting included debate and voting on dissident proposals from the floor, although they were in the end defeated].
[Members voted for a campaign of rolling half-day stoppages in Term 4 of this year and to continue work bans, including bans on report writing and attending some meetings. If these have not changed the government's intransigent attitude, another one-day strike will be held on February 14, next year. [[Term 4 is 8 October to 21 December. The Australian school year is the calendar year]].
[A motion calling for a campaign of regional stoppages and rallies and a one-day strike at the start of Term 4 gained a fair degree of support but was defeated.]
While Baillieu's failure to keep his promise to make [Victoria's] the "highest paid teachers in the country" [teacher pay rates differ from state to state in Australia] is a theme of the campaign, teachers and education support staff are most motivated to strike a blow against Baillieu's threats to ramp up his corporate schools agenda with performance pay, even more power for principals, and plans to sack "the worst 5 per cent" of teachers.
Rank-and-file union group, the Teachers and ES Alliance, proposed an amendment to use demands in our logs of claims - for preparation time, smaller classes and job security - to promote an alternative to Baillieu's (and Gillard's) education model.
While there was clear support for the strategy of fighting for much needed improvements in order to resist Baillieu's attacks, Australian Education Union (AEU) officials were keen to maintain a controlled campaign focusing simply on pay.
They were quick to misrepresent the amendment as "offensive to the leadership" and akin to calling an "indefinite strike until class sizes are under 20", and on that basis the amendment was defeated...
AEU members were met at State parliament by teachers from Catholic schools in the Victorian Independent Education Union (VIEU), who were taking unprotected [i.e. unlawful] industrial action. [Catholic schools in Australia are part of the private sector, not the state sector, though, like other private schools in Australia, they receive large state subsidies. Private school teachers have their own unions separate from the state-school teachers' unions. Between 35% and 40% of Australian high school students are in private schools].
Fair Work Australia [the official industrial conciliation authority] had banned the VIEU from organising and encouraging its members from taking strike action, and yet 5000 teachers closed down approximately 60 schools to join the battle against Baillieu.
The solidarity was inspiring for AEU members, who have thus far confined ourselves to a legally protected, and therefore slow campaign. (The dispute began when we served the government our log of claims in 2010!) [Australian law now restricts "protected" (lawful) industrial action so that it can take place only in the period around the end of an industrial agreement, and sometimes not even then.]
The massive turn-out sent a clear message to Baillieu that teachers have no tolerance for his agenda. To win this fight, we need to make it clear the stakes are not just over pay, but over good teaching conditions and a better public education system. And we must be prepared for longer, more sustained strikes and industrial bans to hit Baillieu where it hurts.