Statement on the wave of teachers’ strikes and the World Teacher’s Day
5 October 2013
Issued by the Office of the Chairperson
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
On the occasion of World Teacher’s Day, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) extends its staunch and vigorous support to the hundreds of thousands of teachers in various countries who have been waging strikes for their economic rights, free quality education and academic freedom in the past several months. We cite the exceptionally militant mass struggles of the teachers of Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay, Kenya, Nigeria, Swaziland, Uganda, India, Greece, United Kingdom, Australia, the US and other countries from June 2013 onwards.
In Mexico, up to 70,000 teachers launched a two-month-long strike from early August to late September to protest the Peña Nieto government’s educational reform program, which the teachers reject because they are being unfairly penalized for the low quality of education and also because they see the program as a neoliberal push to weaken teachers’ union rights and gradually privatize the public educational system. The reform program, passed in December 2012, imposes mandatory performance exams and tighter discipline on teachers, who may then be denied raises and promotions or even fired en masse if their work is deemed substandard.
The striking teachers, who were led by the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) and the Oaxaca locals of the umbrella National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), showed a high level of mass militancy by sustaining their strike for weeks, marching in their thousands to Mexico City, holding huge demonstrations together with students and other working people in 26 out of 31 provinces, staking a 40,000-strong campout at the capital’s Zócalo (central plaza), resisting violent police dispersal operations, and organizing a series of popular teachers’ summits to consolidate their unity.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, thousands of schoolteachers demanding higher salaries have been on strike for nearly two months now, and clashes between strikers and police undertaking brutal dispersal operations have broken out in recent days. The teachers’ union and City Hall remain deadlocked as the strikers reject Mayor Edoardo Paes’ measly salary proposals. Teachers in Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities also participated en masse in the massive nationwide demonstrations earlier in July-August.
In Paraguay, teachers also participated in mass protests just this early October to oppose salary cuts due to absences during an earlier strike in July-August that the government had declared illegal. An earlier teacher’s strike demanded a higher retirement plan. The low salaries and inadequate pensions have served to lower the standard of education and this is now used as pretext for the privatization of public schools.
As in Latin America, the continent of Africa has also been rocked by teachers’ strikes in past months. Still on-going after three months is the nationwide strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria, while the country’s National Union of Teachers are poised to go on a sympathy strike to break the deadlock. The ASUU’s demands include earned allowances and increases in the capital expenditure to universities.
The 200,000-strong Kenya National Union of Teachers won a tactical victory in its nationwide teachers strike, which started on June 25 and ended on July 17 after a new salary package was struck with the government. The struggle continues as the government has declared the strike illegal and has undertaken reprisal measures against the union.
During the same period, some 30% to 50% of schools in Swaziland were also paralyzed by teachers’ strikes, with the 9,000-strong Swaziland National Association of Teachers demanding a 4.5 percent increase to stave off the effects of inflation, while the national government refused to entertain any wage hikes. In September, primary and secondary school teachers in Uganda’s state-owned schools also waged a two-week nationwide strike to pursue their demand for salary increases.
In Greece, already hobbled by the Troika’s austerity measures, the Federation of Secondary Education State School Teachers (OLME) and four other public-sector unions under ADEDY (representing 800,000 civil service workers) launched a nationwide “rolling strike” from Sept. 16 to 20, and launched another 48-hour general strike until Sept. 26.
OLME protested the massive layoff of teachers in secondary education (20% reduction since June); closure or merger of 2,500 primary and secondary schools; suspension of 2,500 vocational teachers; compulsory transfer of 5,000 teachers; a new law that will turn senior high schools (lyceums) into hellish exam marathons that will cause huge dropouts; and deep cuts in public spending on education.
Even as we mark World Teacher’s Day, teachers’ unions are launching regional strikes in different areas of Great Britain to protest the UK government’s shift from a national pay framework for teachers and the introduction of the more repressive and anti-union performance-related pay. There are also recently concluded, ongoing, or still-unfolding teachers’ mass struggles—many of them in the form of strikes—in Australia, United States, and several countries in Asia.
As the global capitalist system curtails workers’ rights from all sides, it erodes teachers’ rights to decent salaries, benefits, and tenure, and undermines their academic freedom. Anti-social fiscal priorities result in excessive tuition increases and inadequate services. The attacks on educators’ rights and impacts of the global crisis create domino effects on the entire educational system—deteriorating quality of education and school facilities, lower enrollment and higher dropout rates, and other distortions that aggravate inequalities in educational services—which invariably affect n the students and the broad masses of the people.
Throughout the world, teachers are waging their economic struggles in the general context of the people’s political struggles against oppression and exploitation. Increasingly, teachers and their organizations become part of social movements that sharply oppose their governments’ role in implementing neoliberal policies of the imperialist powers, in protecting the interests of their own expoliting classes, and in defaulting on their duty to uphold their people’s economic, political, social and cultural rights—including the right to universal access to education and to academic freedom.
The ILPS fully supports teachers and educators all over the world in their struggle for education rights, against state abandonment, against privatization and commercialization of education, and against ideas and research directed against the people. We welcome the fact that in recent years, teachers and other education workers have shown increased mass militancy in fighting for their sectoral rights and in reasserting their multifaceted role as a component of the broad people’s movement against imperialism.
The ILPS encourages teachers’ and other academe-based organizations to join country-level chapters of the League and to contribute to the activities of its Commission on Concern 11, which is focused on the rights of teachers, researchers, and other education personnel.
The ILPS and its member organizations support teachers and directly participate in campaigns and programs for basic reforms that ensure the universal availability of quality education at all levels, and that enhances the role of education in advancing the interests of the broad masses, not those of the imperialists and and oppressive and exploitative classes. In a truly democratic environment, teachers and educators can freely exercise their vocation and passion to educate the greatest number of students without fear or insecurity over their economic well-being.