On September 15th over 1,000 teachers and supporters from Wellington, Hutt Valley and Kapiti Coast marched from Wellington High School to Parliament as part of a national one day strike action. The strike was called in support of teachers’ claims for a 4% wage increase an improvement in working conditions and opposition to such measures as the 90 Day Act.
The marchers were in good spirits, with a sense of purpose for their action. There was some chanting and attempts to interact with lunchtime passersby in the CBD, who were either subdued or supportive in attitude. One amusing example came when some teenagers on the pavement called out “Good one, but make sure its a Friday next time!”.
Upon reaching Parliament grounds, numbers swelled and a series of scheduled speakers addressed the crowd followed by an open mike. Although each speaker stressed slightly different aspects of the teachers’ situation, a common theme was the warped sense of priorities exhibited by the Government in terms of its allocation of money. This was a point made for example by Labour MP Trevor Mallard who put the lack of funding for teachers in the context of the recent bailing out of South Canterbury Finance investors “If they can find money for that, they can find money for education”. A valid point but it is doubtful a Labour led government would have contemplated anything radically different to the action National took, given its own previous track record and shared role as a prop for the capitalist economic order.
Following the speeches, remaining marchers moved up the road to the Ministry of Education building. A short but noisy expression of dissatisfaction occurred as the teachers formed a semicircle in the courtyard immediately in front of the Ministry entrance, before dispersing.
In other centres, similar marches were held. The Auckland march of about 2,500 ground Queen St to a halt. The one-day strike was the first in eight years for the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and it affected about 280,000 students from more than 450 secondary and intermediate schools. Peter Beyer, an English teacher at Otahuhu College, said students were being disadvantaged because of teachers’ huge work loads. “The Government will say we’re greedy, we’re after money, but we asked for very little money - we asked for a realistic settlement - and we’re marching mainly for the students and for the conditions we work in,” he said.
In summary, the turnout on the day was good given the current low level of strike action nationally across both public and private sectors. However, more concerted action is required if teachers and other workers are to make real progress. With the PPTA leadership pushing a line in its literature of wanting “cooperation from government - not conflict” and the ultimately puny nature of a one day strike, teachers at the chalkface and their allies will need to take more direct action themselves. The PPTA has already pulled back from one-day strikes, and instead said they will go out on eight partial strikes each week from October 14. During each partial strike, teachers will refuse to teach students from a particular year (say year 11) but still continue to teach all other students. There is also a need to link the conditions of workers in one sector or form of employment with others and to include the unemployed and non-unionised, to avoid the government isolating and picking off weak targets. Such a goal will not be easy to achieve in reality, but it is one worth working towards if any substantial improvements are to be won.