Stand Up for Kids: Supporting Public Education

Public education in Aotearoa is under attack. From charter schools – the failed money-making scheme imported from right-wing US think-tanks – to National’s ongoing plans to increase classroom sizes to national standards and league tables, the last years have seen relentless assaults on public education. Add to this the disaster of Novopay, and the insecurity and sadness Christchurch teachers, students and communities face as the government pushes through school closures and mergers in the earthquake-damaged city, and the picture gets worse.

So we need to Stand Up for Kids. It’s great that the NZEI – the primary teachers’ union – called nationwide rallies yesterday. These rallies showed the depth of teachers’ anger, and the scale of community support. They could inspire further fights. They were a success.

Our members mobilized in each of our branches to come out and support these rallies.

In Auckland, 4000 people marched. “The rally was loud and full of energy,” Rowan McArthur reports. “The main areas of concern from the teachers I talked to were over charter school, the standardization of children’s education and Novopay. Many stated that they were willing to go on strike.” Other unions involved and visible on the rally in Auckland included the PPTA, NZNO, SFWU and Unite. “There were lots of parents and school children supporting the teachers too.”

In Wellington 1500 people gathered at the Cenotaph to march up into Parliament grounds. The mood was similarly angry but, while there were plenty of familiar faces there from other unions, it would have been good to see more visible solidarity. Labour MP Chris Hipkins pledged in a speech from the front that there would be no future for charter schools under a Labour government, but the mood in the crowd was much more for action now. In Wellington too “The complaints were wide ranging, from problems with Novopay, National Standards, the introduction of charter schools, performance pay, underfunding, and the undermining of quality teacher education standards,” reports Kevin Hodder. “Teachers and parents from several Wellington region schools spoke in defense of public education. The NZEI mobilised in force, drawing in support from teachers, parents, students and a large number of community supporters.”

While the primary focus was on schools, an Early Childhood Education teacher also spoke on the attacks on ECE funding, and pressure to increase class and centre sizes beyond reasonable levels – the core argument being clearly articulated: “We are not baby farmers!”

In Dunedinthere was a quieter but still considerable march, with 500 gathering at the Dental School to protest through to the Octagon.

Edit: Around 150 gathered in Rotorua, including several who took time out from the Mana AGM nearby to attend.

It’s clear that education – from early childhood through to tertiary – is a focus for the government’s anti-worker and pro-business agenda. NZEI members in Christchurch voted in December last year to strike in February against school closures. That inspiring stand points a way forward – we can defend our public education through union power.