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 Premier Ted Baillieu’s offer of a 2.5 per cent pay increase. The meeting debated the way forward for the campaign at the strike meeting at the Rod Laver Arena.
While Baillieu’s failure to keep his promise to make us the “highest paid” teachers in the country 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.
The mood was unquestionably in favour of bans on deeply unpopular after school meetings and writing comments in Term 4 reports, as well as rolling stoppages across each school region. After the long wait between stop works, teachers were anxious for effective industrial action.
AEU members were met at State parliament by teachers from Catholic schools in the Victorian Independent Education Union (VIEU), who were taking unprotected industrial action. Fair Work Australia 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!)
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.
Lucy Honan, AEU member