04 March 2011: Global March is concerned at the news emerging from the USA in recent weeks regarding the budgetary action being put forward in several states which would strip the fundamental collective bargaining rights of hundreds of thousands of state employees, including teachers. At a time when the world acknowledges a shortage of qualified teachers needed to ensure the achievement of the Education For All goals, it is staggering to witness such an attack by an industrialised government on decent working conditions for teachers, frontline education workers. Year after year, it is recognised that teachers are the central platform on which the provision of good quality, free and public education is fixed. They are essential to ensure access and quality and should benefit, like all other workers, from fundamental trade union freedoms and decent work.
Stripped of the right to collective bargaining
Therefore, Global March expresses its full solidarity with Education International (EI) affiliates in the United States, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Terachers (AFT), in their vigorous campaign to fight this regressive legislation in Wisconsin and in Ohio, Idaho, Indiana and elsewhere. The proposal to restrict bargaining rights for teacher unions and eliminate dues check-off is an opportunistic frontal attack on workers’ rights. The new legislation would also require workers to cover more of their health care and pension plans, and would request unions to conduct costly annual votes to maintain certification.
These attacks would not only damage the livelihoods and job security of thousands of workers and their families but would also undermine the quality and cohesion of public services. The International Labour Organization (ILO) recognises collective bargaining as an essential means through which workers and their organisations may promote and defend their economic and social interests. The ILO jurisprudence related to implementation of its Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, one of the core international labour standards, states that “All public service workers should enjoy collective bargaining rights”. The USA is a long-standing member of the ILO and should therefore comply with this Convention and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
Education unions worldwide advocate for strong, independent and representatives teacher unions building the future through quality education, a theme which is central to the work and mission of the Global March. Strong education unions believe in building a collaborative relationship with education stakeholders to help craft innovative education policies and reforms improving student achievement.
Against this backdrop, Global March joins with its member organisation EI and all teacher unions around the world in calling on the relevant state authorities in the USA to engage in comprehensive, constructive and sustainable dialogue with teacher organisations to enable an environment in which the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are guaranteed. As a prominent member of the international community, the USA should uphold well-established rules of international law.
New York City threatens massive teacher redundancies
There is further alarming news emerging from the USA more recently as the AFT and NEA have learned that up to 5,000 teachers are threatened with redundancy in New York. Figures released by the city’s Department of Education details the number of teachers it will lay off if it does not receive more money from the State Senate. The figures estimate that at least 4,675 teachers’ posts, or 6 per cent of teachers, currently working in the city, could be dispensed. If enacted, the measures would have a deep and profound impact across all academic subject areas and neighbourhoods, affecting 80 per cent of the 1,600 public schools in the city. Most schools would lose between one to five teachers, while nine would lose as many as half of the teachers on their payroll.
Mr Richard C. Iannuzzi, President of the New York State United Teachers, the local umbrella teachers’ union affiliated to both the AFT and NEA, said: “Whether we work in health care, on a campus or in a school, we all bring different, and important, contributions to the profession. Teachers have already sacrificed enough; only last year, more than 5,000 were laid off.”
Echoing concerns expressed by EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, Global March Chairperson said: “If the largest economic power in the world is taking such drastic action in the education sector, then what message does this send out to other countries around the world? That frontline education services should be cut back during economic crisis? This flies in the face of past experience. We know that this is a time when education is more important than ever and we owe it to our children to make sure that they do not suffer the consequences of the irresponsible action of their governments and financial institutions. We call on the authorities in New York to immediately review its proposed action and to look at other possibilities to cut back on public spending that will not undermine good quality public education and that will keep teachers in the classroom. If this proposal goes through, then it will be the weakest and most vulnerable children in New York’s society that will suffer.”
Global March calls on member organisations to publish information on these repressive activities in the USA on their institutional web sites. In addition, it urges members to send messages of support and solidarity to the AFT and NEA and for more information, please visit the following web sites:
Education International (English, French and Spanish): www.ei-ie.org
American Federation of Teachers: www.aft.org
National Education Association: www.nea.org