Article text (see below for link to article in The Australian):
A radical sub-branch of the Australian Education Union is threatening industrial action in the wake of a bruising federal election campaign, calling on members to “fight like real unionists” by drawing inspiration from legions of red-shirted, striking teachers across the US.
Melbourne Educators for Social and Environmental Justice, a division of the AEU’s Victorian branch that wants NAPLAN scrapped and an end to public funding for private schools, has urged the union to cease gambling on electoral solutions and lobbying strategies and “return to our real union strength: members taking industrial action to win our demands”.
While it is not known whether the group’s views are replicated more broadly in the union movement, its staunch opposition to NAPLAN — it claimed to have orchestrated a pre-election boycott of the test at a high-profile Melbourne school but was talked out of it by a union leader — was echoed at this week’s NSW Teachers Federation conference, where the national testing tool was described as a “fiasco”.
NSW Teachers Federation executive member Denis Fitzgerald welcomed last month’s surprise announcement by NSW, Victoria and Queensland of a review of NAPLAN, declaring that the union’s lobbying on the issue was “bearing fruit”.
However, MESEJ, which has more than 500 members, has hinted at tensions within the teachers’ union over its expensive campaign to have the Coalition booted from government, claiming that millions of dollars was spent on advertising, campaign vans, T-shirts and mail-outs “without anything to show for it”.
MESEJ has sought advice from prominent union figures in the US, where rolling strikes over wages, conditions as well as social causes, including the deportation of migrant students, have taken place over recent months. Teacher activists, including Brendan Muckian-Bates, who helped orchestrate the West Virginian strikes, will speak at an MESEJ forum later this month to assist local teachers “apply the (US) lessons to our struggle for public education in Australia”.
“With strong leadership, this frustration could fuel an industrial campaign for public education, taking on the tangled web of federal and state neoliberal education policies,” the group said in a statement to the Victorian AEU State Council meeting last month. “While we need to be politically prepared to challenge anti-strike laws, we can start with symbolic, galvanising local actions as the teachers in West Virginia and the red states did. They wore red shirts to show their commitment to the campaign, held protests at politicians’ offices, campaigned with street stalls … and finally they built up to indefinite strike action.”
According to MESEJ, which in addition to railing against NAPLAN wants greater control over the school curriculum, no more than 16 hours of classroom-facing time a week for each teacher and class sizes to be capped at 20, members should be willing to confront Australia’s anti-strike laws.
“Teachers and education workers are in an excellent position to exercise our right to strike,” it said. “We are hugely well connected and respected … and politically difficult to jail, threaten or intimidate.”
Both the AEU and the Victorian branch declined to comment and MESEJ spokeswoman Lucy Honan did not return calls.