On November 19, the State Council of the NSW Teachers Federation carried a branch executive resolution to “defer” a planned strike for November 29—a strike that had been endorsed by thousands of enthusiastic teachers at stop work meetings the week before.
Outgoing President Bob Lipscombe told the media that although “the government is yet to provide a fair and reasonable salaries offer”, “developments indicate that progress towards this may be possible.”
But at the Council, Lipscombe admitted that the negotiations were a limited window of opportunity. Some Federation organisers believe that industrial action will soon be back on, even before the end of this year, or at the start of the school and TAFE year in late January 2012.
The number of “ifs” and “maybes” in the leadership’s statements reinforces the view of the rank-and-file Activist Teachers Network (ATN) that calling off the strike is completely unwarranted.
O’Farrell has shown nothing but contempt for teachers. A rush to call off the strike just to talk is no way for us to win. It sends the wrong message to other teachers and public sector workers who are looking to us to break O’Farrell’s IR laws and wage cap.
Turning the fight on and off like a tap runs the risk of dampening the magnificent momentum that has built up since O’Farrell announced his attacks, with thousands of teachers attending the Unions NSW rally in September and then the stop work meetings. The Federation has recruited well over 1000 new members in the past three months.
At Council, dissenting Executive members John Morris and John Gaucci spoke strongly for going ahead with the strike, arguing that O’Farrell has not made a reasonable offer; that the only reason he has offered talks is because of our threat of strike action; and that mobilising the membership is the best way to win our claim of 5 per cent a year over three years.
While the motion to call off the strike was backed by some organisers, many ATN members and other rank-and-file teachers insisted that their colleagues were eager to go ahead with the strike. A Councillor from Parkes asked the simple but telling question: “How am I going to explain calling off our action to our colleagues when we have got nothing from the government?”
An impressive 20 per cent of the floor voted to continue with the strike. Now the ATN needs to respond by deepening its connections with teachers across Sydney and in country areas. At the November 2 stop works, the ATN’s publication, Class Action, was distributed at more than 20 venues, an unprecedented effort.
An Executive meeting on November 29 will consider the result of the Federation’s talks with O’Farrell and Education Minister Piccoli. ATN members and others have repeatedly argued that no settlement will be acceptable if it trades off conditions, excludes TAFE, or ignores the need to also make the government agree to sign up to a new state-wide staffing agreement.
This is no time for stepping back. O’Farrell’s pay cap can be broken, but like the Victorian nurses, NSW teachers will need to use their industrial power to do that.
By Mark Goudkamp
More information and details of ATN activities can be found at activistteacher.com