The 2014 Annual Conference of the New South Wales Teachers Federation fell only days before the Unions NSW Bust the Budget rally, and amid a wave of anger against Abbott’s budget.

But the Federation remains narrowly focused on campaigning for the “Gonski” schools funding increases.

The review headed by David Gonski in 2012 recommended major funding increases found to address inequality in the schools system.

Abbott has scrapped the bulk of the funding increases. Labor set the ground work for this. Rudd and Gillard promised to phase in the funding over six years, leaving the biggest increases to occur only in the last two years, 2018 and 2019. This was so far into the future that Labor did not actually have to budget for it. The Liberals simply refused to fund the final two years of spending.

Now, education unions are set to follow a marginal seats campaign designed to get Abbott voted out at the next election. In NSW the Federation is targeting nine Coalition seats. The conference even agreed a new organiser based in each of the seats, at a cost of around $2 million.

This is a repeat of the union Your Rights at Work marginal seats strategy. This got rid of John Howard but failed to put any pressure on Labor to deliver change.

The Federation’s leaders are dismissive of the kind of action that could not only stop the bulk of Abbott’s cuts, but also put the union in a stronger position to force Labor to deliver. Involvement in the March Australia demonstrations was dismissed as a “one off”—despite the potential for building an ongoing movement against Abbott’s cuts.

Even joint union events like the Bust the Budget rally are regarded with some degree of sectional derision.

The union has also moved away from fighting over industrial issues, like reducing teachers’ workloads. Action is now ruled out for fear of exposing the union to fines in the Industrial Relations Commission. Yet in the past the union has repeatedly had to defy Commission orders to fight for pay and conditions. Fines imposed have never been a mere percentage point of Federation’s budget.

Federation needs to be part of the broader campaign against Abbott’s budget. A marginal seats strategy to advance a single issue undermines the potential that campaign.

By John Morris,
President, Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association

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