Members of ZSP Education union in Warsaw interviewed a comrade from Priama akcia in Slovakia about a recent one-day strike in education. This is the first in a series of planned interviews about the experiences of comrades in this field and is published in the framework of a campaign publicizing strikes and direct actions organized by education workers.
Hi. We have a few questions about the teachers' strike. What are the main demands?
Officially there are three demands and they are all related to money. The money spent on education in the 2013-2015 state budgets expressed that the percentage of the GDP spent on education should be comparable with other EU member states; all employees in the education sector should get higher real wages; teachers and specially trained education workers (school psychologists, speech therapists etc.) should get 1.2 to 2 times the average wage in the national economy
What do you think about these demands? What other labor problems are common in education?
The demands are all about one thing – more money for the employees and the sector. They could have been more specific – the only timeframe is mentioned in the first demand, and this is softened by the word “comparable” – what does it even mean? The third demand would be fine, if they said until when it should be done; also, it ignores the non-teachers in the sector. The second demand is just a phrase.
There are also practical problems related to money – many schools are desolate, they need to be repaired and equipped with new furniture, computers etc., but there is simply “not enough money” to do that.
However, not everything in education can be solved purely with more money. There are still too many students per teacher, but the government argues otherwise, forcing people out of their jobs in the name of rationalization. (The previous government even said in their statement related to the state budget that they could give teachers more money, but first a certain percentage of them must leave the job, thus compensating for the pay rise).
Another problem is that there is a feeling that no one really knows where education is supposed to go. There are constant reforms, changes of curricula, changes related to further education of teachers… I could go on.
Who called the strike? How does the situation with unions look like in Slovakian schools? Are many teachers unionized? What do you think about the mainstream unions?
The strike was called by the trade union OZPŠaV organizing most of the education and science workers. (They have around 50 000 members; the total number of employees in education is over 100 000.) This union is a classic “reformist” lobbying one, organized from top to bottom.
We know that last year some teachers who were not satisfied with the actions of the main union started some other initiative. How has that been working?
The initiative formed into a new union (NŠO) with their “charismatic leader” becoming the union president. A few weeks ago they said they have around 300 members. I know nothing about what they do on the level of particular workplaces.
What message did Priama Akcia bring to the strike? Was it a message of support? A call to continue protest or to organize? How do people react to this?
Priama akcia wrote a solidarity statement with the strike and sent it to the media, the Facebook page and the discussion forum of both unions so that the rank and file can read it. I as a teacher also did an interview for Priama akcia about the conditions in the sector, the attitudes of various groups (headmaster, students, parents) to the strike, and the general sense of inactivity that is prevalent in the sector. In the interview, I also clearly state that if the demands are not met only an indefinite strike would be effective. The trade union is, of course, a lot more careful about these things. Its representatives speak about possible future actions very vaguely. Their chairman even said for the media that a longer strike would be “a very daring step”. When I discuss this with my colleagues, we agree that there is no networking of teachers and other education employees outside this trade union, and that’s why we are at their mercy and do what they say. Needless to say, if teachers want to achieve something, they need to organize on their own, but that’s a long way to go. The NŠO example from last year isn’t very encouraging either, because the structure of the new union resembles the old one, there is nothing grassroots about it.
What do you think will happen next? Will there be more action or was the strike just a one-day show?
I sincerely hope there is going to be more actions, especially after the demands are not met, but I have a feeling the negotiations are going to yield an unsatisfactory compromise and that will be it. So far, the official union has just hinted at a possible continuation of the actions, and seems reluctant to do so.
How did the strike go and what were your impressions?
There were several negatives of the strike. The union did not organize any protest, so most of the teachers just stayed home, so there was no sense of unity or struggle. Some Facebook teachers in Bratislava suggested a “stroll around the city” at the last minute, but it was so badly organized that only some 50 or so people actually met. Still, it was nice to see that they tried to take matters into their own hands. I hope that this strike and the further development of the negotiations will show them that there is a profound need to organize and control their struggle, because otherwise they can just sit on the sidelines and helplessly watch what is happening on their behalf. And that is not what we want.
Thank you and good luck!