Defying NSW Industrial Relations Commission orders, tens of thousands of school teachers struck on June 27 against the O’Farrell government’s devolution plan. The strike fully closed 310 schools, and the vast majority had minimal supervision.

The main strike meeting at Sydney Town Hall was packed, with thousands spilling into the square outside. Devolution threatens thousands of jobs at the Department of Education and Communities, as well as up to 8000 permanent teaching jobs.

The meeting’s official resolution stated: “Federation will use every legal, industrial and political strategy at its disposal to ensure that the resourcing of public schools are maintained, the learning opportunities of our students are secured and the working conditions of teachers are maintained.” It’s the industrial strategy that will be crucial to winning this dispute. Rank-and-file teachers must push for more, sustained strike action as soon as possible.

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli is not backing down on devolution. He has refused to sign Federation’s Putting Students First charter, which calls for guarantees on class sizes, no cuts to school funding, no decrease in the number of permanent, specialist and executive teachers, and maintenance of the existing award. His response to the strike was to call on the NSW upper house to pass legislation allowing fines of $220,000 for industrial action!

Teachers Federation President Maurie Mulheron told teachers, “We will keep this campaign alive for as long as it takes. The profession will not be bullied or intimidated by threats of fines. We will not be silenced, we will not go away”. We must keep him to his word. And we must reject any suggestion our campaign must orient towards the electoral defeat of O’Farrell in four, eight, or 12 years. Labor is pushing the same agenda federally, with their Empowering Local Schools initiative. Even if NSW Labor promised to reverse devolution, it would be well and truly entrenched by then.

Federation’s national conference in early July discussed the hope Gillard will legislate for a new school funding system based on the Gonski review’s recommendations. While these are an improvement on Howard’s hated SES model, Gonski does not challenge the huge levels of funding for private schools. An Activist Teachers’ Network (ATN) proposal to mobilise around schools funding in Term 4 was rejected.

But our strike showed that we have both the enthusiasm and the power to do so.

Mark Goudkamp

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