National Sections of the L5I:

128,000 Czech Teachers strike: how can they win?

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According to the media some 128,000 out of 200,000 Czech education workers struck on Tuesday 4 December - around 65 per cent the total workforce. In some regions this figure reached 90 per cent. Furthermore many teachers who in the end didn’t join the strike have declared their supported it. In addition a number public meetings took place, the biggest one in Prague with around 600 trade unionists present.

Once again the media churned out its classic stories about wicked teachers taking using children as hostages. But the teachers’ and other education workers’ demands was so glaring, that even the universal media hysteria could not disguise them. Teachers are just one of the sectors who have seen their real wages sinking in recent years. The teachers’ pay is to rise by 1.5 percent next year, which is well below the projected inflation of 4.4 to 5.8 percent. The schools are in a sorry state as well –with serious shortages of teaching materials and equipment the norm rather than the exception. The teachers trade unions demanded an extra 3 billion Czech crowns (around 115 million Euros) in the education budget, due to be approved the day following the strike.

The answer would seems to be a simple one – if you want something, you have to fight for it. And the determination and enthusiasm of the rank and file trade unionists was there. Unfortunately the TU leadership, especially Frantisek Dobsik, chairman of the Czech-Moravian Union of Education Workers, don’t see it this way and announced that the strike was a symbolic one-off day of action, not the beginning of a chard fought campaign.

With such friends... don’t need enemies“, as they say. And indeed, let’s quota Dobsik himself even before the strike: “These strictly declarative promises that there will be something hot after the hot autumn will be a bit delayed and we will be in something like a holding pattern. But we will not only we be waiting, we want to cooperate.”

Why? Because the new minister of education for the Green Party Ondrej Liska, who welcomed the strike the very day he was appointed, has declared that he will “try to look” whether there are not some internal reserves. We can certainly question whether he will find anything, wen the strike is long over. Maybe he will promise the teachers an increase in the 2009 budget.

Dobsik, evidently exhausted by the one day strike, came up with an answer: “Now we have some moments to breathe in, evaluate everything and find out where the mistake has occurred.” Maybe the “mistake” lies in having a government in power whose goal to do everything possible to satisfy the rich and carry out a generalised offensive against the poor (today euphemistically known as the “low-income groups”) For anyone who regularly reads the newspapers this discovery will be no surprise, the government has been clear about these objectives from the very beginning.

That the one-day strike, though in itself a magnificent show of strength, will prove inadequate to win a substantial improvement in the pay of education workers and a major increase in spending on schools, supplies etc, This is even more so if the union leadership announces that there will not be any follow up action. Even the chairman of the national TUC (?MKOS) Milan Št?ch declared that ”a one day strike is useful but I myself would welcome a longer protest.“ He is right, though Dobsik, might consider the criticism a bit rich, coming from the person, who called for only a single one hour demonstration in June, against the governments generalised offensive against the working class

The trade unions are supposed to be organisations for the defence of the economic interests of the working class. The time has come to take on this task again. If the current leadership is not up to, they should make way and we will elect a new leadership. Many rank and file trade unionists are deeply dissatisfied with the politics of their leaders. We can and have to turn this discontent into action. We, the rank and file, have to organise from below and force our leadership into action. If they refuse then we have to replace them.

And on top of this, we need a political party of our own which would set out the tactics and strategy to win. Such a party would expose the class character of the government and the whole of its agenda. It would fight for its overthrow and replacement by a government serving the needs and interests of the working class.

The teachers could have been victorious if this strike had carried on beyond a one-day demonstration of strength. What was necessary was an all out. indefinite strike which would show the education workers are not longer willing tolerate the appalling conditions or even their worsening. It was necessary to win solidarity from other trade unions, not just the verbal kind but solidarity in action. The government of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens has chosen as its target all other sectors as well – for example raising indirect taxation, direct payments for healthcare and abolition of health benefits for first days of any illness.

Exactly ten years ago the trade unions showed their strength – their action against the austerity packages dumped the Klaus government. It is time to do it again!