From Workers' Liberty Teachers NUT conference bulletin 2007
For many years the ‘International Section’ of conference has been dominated by motions and amendments offering various interpretations of the world situation.
Most of these have focussed exclusively on the crimes of Western imperialism or the actions of Israel alone. Little to no comment has been offered on the brutality of regimes such as Iran or movements like Hamas and Hezbollah. Oppression is not a one-way street. Murders are not the sole prerogative of US or Israeli guns and bombs. The world is not divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps where our “enemy’s enemy is a friend”. Much of history is hidden, unwritten, misunderstood. The biggest of all omissions is the history of a third camp, the international working class.
The labour movement has a responsibility to offer solidarity with workers in struggle wherever they are, be it Mexico, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, Palestine or Israel. We need to recognise that whatever illusions some in our Union may hold in the ‘progressive’ nature of a regime, movement or figurehead or the one-dimensional prejudices they hold against others the working class is the key to real liberation, the force capable of throwing off all oppression whatever its source.
Teachers around the world are at the forefront of struggle on a daily basis. Two inspirational examples come from Iran and Mexico:
In the face of arrests and the ever-looming threat of authoritarian crackdown, Iranian teachers have engaged in mass protests against poverty pay. Teachers earn around half the Iranian poverty line of $543 per month. To make ends meet many take a second job but annual inflation rates of 15% compound a desperate situation. Add to this further proposed funding cuts in education and the already parlous state of many schools and it’s easy to explain the militancy of the actions. Despite Ahmadinejad’s promise of greater distribution of oil revenue to public services, the government has announced that it will be unable to fund heating for this winter and 45,000 classrooms remain derelict. Iranian students suffer as much as their teachers in this situation.
The recent protests are the culmination of action that began early this year. After the government sounded its’ intention to repeal a ‘Pay Parity Bill’ over 100 teachers demonstrated outside of Parliament on 23 January. Iranian teachers have no formal right to conduct strike action so over two days many attended work but staged classroom sit-ins, refusing to teach. On 22 February, more than 3000 teachers and their supporters demonstrated outside of Parliament. This time uniformed and undercover military forces were present in large numbers. The demonstration concluded with the reading of a four-point declaration warning of further protests, demanding a meeting with the president and setting a date for more strike action.
These demands have gone unheard and protests and strikes continue. Iran shows very little tolerance for independent working class action and has used legal and paramilitary action in the past to quash union organisation. The actions of Iranian teachers are symptomatic of the real social and economic crisis looming over the country.
The teachers of Iran show that in the worst of circumstances, coordinated protests and solidarity are possible. With the threat of war against Iran it’s imperative that the international labour movement mobilises itself to oppose intervention and build solidarity with workers’, student and women’s organisations who are organising against this fundamentalist-clerical regime.
Mexico – “A Teacher on Strike is Still Teaching”
The struggle in Oaxaca was one of high points of workers struggle anywhere in the world last year. Now the movement of teachers and others is facing savage repression. But “La lucha continua” – the struggle continues! That’s the message from teachers, activists and other workers in Oaxaca. Mexican teachers have led mass social struggles again and again, they are seen as the most active and militant of labour movement activists.
The teachers organised a huge sit-in encampment in the central square of Oaxaca city involving thousands of members and their supporters. On 14 June 2006, the Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, a member of the PRI, sent over a thousand police into the city centre to break up the teachers’ camp.
Helicopters dropped tear gas and Molotov cocktails on the demonstrators to drive them out. But teachers, other workers and organisations fought back and reoccupied the square. Huge demonstrations of 100,000 people marched to support the teachers. Protesters also built a united struggle committee, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), taking the dispute to a higher level.
The regional government again tried to silence the movement with repression. Erangelio Mendoza Gonzalez, former general secretary of Section 22 of the SNTE was imprisoned and tortured from the beginning of August until the end of October.
Despite the repression, the teachers and APPO refused to be bowed. Demonstrations known as “megamarches” saw more than a million people marched through Oaxaca City - around a third of the entire population of the state. Protesters built over 1,000 barricades throughout the city to stop incursions by gunmen and police. APPO became a huge democratic gathering, typically with over 200 delegates discussing strategy and tactics.
In late October, after several ballots – the last 60: 40, the teachers agreed to go back to work. Doing a deal with some SNTE leaders, the government agreed to raise wages for teachers and other education workers, make funds available for teacher’s housing, and fund free school uniforms, equipment and more scholarships for students. The point was to divide the teachers from APPO but many remain involved in the popular assemblies and continue to organise.
These are just a very small sample of the sort of international issues the NUT should draw attention to and the kind of solidarity we should build.
Tom Unterrainer, Joint Secretary Nottingham City NUT