Sunday, September 22, 2013

WA schools stand up to education cuts

Large stop-work rallies were held across Western Australia on September 19 to fight the Liberal state government’s education cuts.

About 15,000 people attended the rally in Perth and another 5000 attended stop-work meetings across regional WA, including 2000 in Bunbury, 500 in Albany, 520 in Pinjarra and 200 in Port Hedland.

Even small schools in the remote north-west of the state took part. A total of 62 schools were shut down for the morning.

The mass stop-work meetings were organised by the State School Teachers Union (SSTU), Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU/CSA), United Voice and the WA Council of State School Organisations.

This broad alliance drew the full range of school-based workers, including teachers, administration staff, library staff, lab technicians, gardeners, cleaners, education assistants and Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers.

Teachers turned out in force even though they were threatened with having their pay docked for attending.

Parents and school students joined in. Other unions also had a presence, including the National Tertiary Education Union and the Maritime Union of Australia. The stop-work meetings were also supported by the national Australian Education Union (AEU).

“We need everyone to give a kid a good education. That’s what it takes. That’s also what it takes to stand up for one,” United Voice secretary Carolyn Smith told the crowd.

Speakers at the Perth rally included SSTU president Anne Gisborne, United Voice secretary Carolyn Smith, CPSU/CSA assistant secretary Rikki Hendon, and Labor opposition leader Mark McGowan. Education minister Peter Collier was invited to speak but declined.

Premier Colin Barnett dismissed the industrial action as a dispute over pay. But unions stressed that the staff and program cuts do not just affect people’s jobs, but children’s education, urging the government to “put our kids first”.

Education cuts of this size affect the whole community. According to Gisborne, Ballajura Community College is set to lose $900,000, and Clarkson Community High School and Collie Senior High School are set to lose $600,000.

The funding cuts will affect Aboriginal educational support, libraries, financial management and specialised programs. Some schools are considering making cuts to history and English literature. Even literacy and numeracy education is under threat.

A freeze on the number of teachers is also planned, even though student numbers are increasing.

The dismissive attitude of the state government has further fueled mass anger. The government denies the cuts are happening, dressing them up as a funding reallocation.

Barnett also accused teachers of striking “for the sake of having a strike”.

The Barnett government is making these cuts at the same time as they are funding unnecessary and unpopular development projects all over Perth. One placard read “Money for education not stadiums”.

Barnett and Collier will meet with unions with the aim of discouraging further industrial action, but speakers at the rally in Perth promised the rally was to be the first step in an ongoing campaign to reverse the cuts.

Hendon said: “Communities all over the state are standing up and expressing their support for the campaign to overturn these cuts and this will only grow.”

[This article by Farida Iqbal was written for Green Left Weekly #982. Photos by Alex Bainbridge.]