Around 20,000 NSW public school teachers attended stop work meetings in May to oppose school “devolution” plans. This action has been affirmed by the NSW Teachers Federation June Council meeting, which voted to consider industrial action unless the government agrees to maintain class size reductions, statewide staffing and funding of specialist positions.
The move, dressed as “giving local principals more power over staffing and funding decisions”, threatens the teacher transfer system and will disadvantage hard to staff schools.
Plans to allow permanent positions to be filled by teachers on temporary contracts will also mean an increase in casualisation.
Disgracefully, Labor Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett stood alongside his NSW Liberal counterpart, Adrian Piccoli, for the announcement of the plans.
However, the tide is turning with parent bodies, principals and the media all publicly questioning the government’s motivations. The most damaging revelation has been that the government has budgeted for funding cuts at the same time they pretend that the “reforms are to put students first”.
To its credit, the NSW Teachers Federation has continued to continued to call actions and meetings, despite the threat of fines for industrial action. Since the NSW Liberals came to power they have moved to force the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to implement government decisions on wages and sought to target union action by boosting fines for strike action in defiance of the IRC.
However, union leaders called off the fight against O’Farrell after staging two public sector wide rallies last year. As a result teachers and other unionists are in a weaker position for all these fights and O’Farrell has announced new attacks like cuts to workers’ compensation.
To challenge and defeat the Liberals we need solidarity in action. Premier Barry O’Farrell has even cut a deal with the Shooters Party allowing hunting in, of all places, National Parks, in order to get his privatisation of power stations through the NSW upper house.
Activists both inside the teachers union and more broadly across the NSW unions are organising around a petition calling for Unions NSW to organise a general strike—a call to restart united action to stop job cuts, privatisation and the rest of the Liberals’ austerity drive. A serious combined campaign can halt the Liberals in their tracks.
John Morris, Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association