Yesterday I attended the industrial action meeting held by primary school teachers of Christchurch. The meeting was held in the vast Riding for the Disabled Arena at the Canterbury Agricultural Show Grounds and more than 1000 teachers attended the event. Many schools were represented and teachers were grouped around the banner for their school.
Before the meeting started, I talked to a number of these groups about why they were considering serious action in opposition to the Government’s plan for Christchurch schools. Some schools were not directly affected by the mergers and closures but were attending in solidarity with their colleagues. Some were exhausted from preparing submissions on the future of their schools to meet the December 7 deadline. A number of teachers described the face to face meeting they had with the Minister of Education and how they really did not feel heard.
In temperatures of 30 degrees, the teachers applauded the NZEI representatives who explained that they had three options. One option was to take no strike action, one was to for one day strike next week and one was to strike on February 19th. They agreed that no action was necessary if the Minister would stop the failed consultation process and start again in a genuine grassroots dialogue with the schools.
During the vote counting I and Megan Woods MP from Labour Party spoke to the audience about our parties’ support for the education communities of Christchurch. They presented Megan, as MP for the Wigram electorate, with 7000 letters from teachers to be presented to the Prime Minister. My characterisation of the “rejuvenation” being imposed sounding like a bad face cream made from dead whales was well received. But it was also a very serious moment. When over 700 teachers vote to strike in February for the well-being of the schools of Christchurch the Government would be wise to start listening.
This action, whether it is technically legal or not, is a strong stand. It is not about pay negotiations or conditions of work, some schools are under no threat from the proposed changes but the teachers want respect. They want respect for the community vision and voice, they want a genuine dialogue that respects the stresses of their communities post-earthquake and they don’t want to be guinea pigs for charter schools, unregistered teachers and super-sizing the education structures. The Green Party supports them, one of our four core principles is the principle of “appropriate level of decision making” and these people should be leading the process not being forced to fight it.