More than 50,000 New Zealand teachers went on strike on May 29, one of the biggest stop-work actions the country has ever seen. Major protests were held in Auckland and Wellington, with smaller rallies held in other cities and towns.
The teachers, from both primary and secondary schools, have for years suffered from stagnating pay and an erosion of working conditions. The situation has gotten so bad that teachers have been walking away from the profession in droves.
The teachers were demanding a 16% pay rise over two years, smaller class sizes and more funding for education. The Labour-led government had originally rejected these demands, claiming that there was “no more money”. This is despite recording a surplus of more than $5 billion last year.
Talks between the teacher’s unions and the government had been underway for about a year, with several smaller strikes being organised over that time. The government however were holding out, refusing to improve a very modest offer.
But the May 29 ‘mega strike’, and threats of further industrial action, put heat on the government and forced them to change their stance.
The union leaders are now recommending that the teachers accept this new offer. While it doesn’t include all of the teachers demands, the experience of the ‘mega strike’ shows that determined mass action can get results.
It remains to be seen whether the teachers will accept this new offer, or if they will push for another round of strike action to win more. While pay is important, many teachers are also concerned about working conditions and education funding.
After coming to power in 2017 the Ardern Labour-led government has faced a wave of industrial action. In addition to the teachers; nurses, public servants, bus drivers, fast food workers, airport workers, dockers and even junior doctors have gone on strike.
Workers have had enough low pay and austerity measures; they are using the weapon of the strike to demand a bigger share of the wealth they produce.
By Socialist Party reporters