Victorian AEU officials lowered the coffin of our EBA campaign into the ground in June with one final and successful push for a yes vote to an atrocious agreement. This followed a rebellion against the deal among the membership. At the union-run regional ballot meetings, members had grilled officials about the dodgy pay rise figures they concocted to sell the deal—which still don’t add up. The officials were hammered for hanging contract and “excess” teachers out to dry, and for settling for an agreement that leaves our class sizes and preparation time utterly unmanageable.But the sense that we could challenge the officials and demand the campaign be put back on had not sunk deeply enough into the membership. The officials won a union run ballot at the end of May. The Education Department then held their ballot to confirm that we all agreed to the new EBA. This was an opportunity to generalise the enthusiasm to reject the deal and keep fighting. But without a strong “no vote” campaign, bitter resignation to the deal had set in.
The EBA campaign lifted the lid on the latent power public school teachers have—our strikes shut down schools and the city three times. The work bans gave us a taste of saying “no” to despotic principals and their insane demands on our time. Fighting performance pay meant we were finally on the front foot in the battle against the business model agenda for public schools.
The feeling of renewed power this gave us makes it all the more miserable to have to wind up our industrial campaign and hand power back to the department and the principals without having won a thing. Hearing Victorian Premier Napthine prattle on about plans to sack teachers and implement performance pay—and seeing our union officials pretend it isn’t happening—is crushing.
The Victorian AEU desperately needs a rank-and-file group which can win the trust of the membership. The Teachers and ES Alliance consistently put up amendments that sought to strengthen the campaign, and we pushed hard for a “no” vote in the union ballots. But the group refused to campaign for a no vote in the department-run ballot that followed—effectively giving up the fight.
Between now and the next EBA we need to engage not just ready-made-radicals, but all teachers and support staff who know that we must fight the neo-liberal schools agenda threatening to steamroll us.