European education unions meet in Warsaw
More than 300 teachers and education workers from 46 countries across Europe, meeting in Warsaw for the EI Regional Conference and ETUCE General Assembly, were asked to take a decision on a resolution to amend the bylaws of the organisation to create a unified structure of political leadership and a single secretariat for EI and ETUCE operations in Europe.
After a tumultuous debate, the participants voted in favour of the resolution, but not by the 2/3 majority required to pass constitutional amendments. The vote was 2,002 for the resolution, 884 against, and 201 abstentions; equal to 64.8% and not the 66.6% required to pass. Thus the existing bylaws remain in effect.
Ronnie Smith of EIS Scotland was acclaimed as President of the Pan-European Structure, and the following people were elected Vice-Presidents: Paul Bennett of the UCU in UK; Odile Cordelier of SNES in France; Manana Ghurchumalidze of EFSTUG in Georgia; Jorgen Lindholm of Lärarförbundet in Sweden; Galina Merkulova of ESEUR in the Russian Federation; and Ulrich Thöne of GEW in Germany.
The delegates adopted a major resolution urging education unions across Europe to be assertive in resisting funding cuts in education and other public services and insisting on greater public investment in education, including in teachers and education personnel.
The delegates also passed two urgent resolutions, both demanding that the Turkish government cease its repression of trade unionists and respect international labour conventions and rights including the right to collective bargaining.
The first resolution pertains to the situation in Cyprus, where Turkish Cypriot unions organised a general strike and mass protest rally on 23 November. They were taking action to protest a new law which imposes, among other measures, the elimination of collective bargaining, salary cuts, and promotions and pay increases being dependent on political affiliation.
During the peaceful strike and demonstration, the authorities used tear gas to disperse activists and arrested many leaders. The unions are demanding repeal of the legislation, immediate release of the imprisoned demonstrators and respect for international conventions on labour standards.
The second resolution pertaining to actions of the Turkish government was brought forward by EI Executive Board member Jerry Bartlett, one of the members of an EI delegation who witnessed the recent trial of 31 activists from the public services federation KESK and the teachers’ union Egitem Sen. Of the 31 unionists arrested, 27 are teachers and all are members of the Kurdish ethnic minority. Some have been held in prison awaiting trial up to nine months.
Bartlett said their arrests came as a result of months of telephone wire tapping, email and internet surveillance. He said there was not a shred of evidence offered to support the charges against them of belonging to an unlawful organisation, charges which carry potential sentences of 5-10 years in prison.
By contrast, he said, the EI delegation was impressed by the tremendous integrity and conviction of the teachers, who are committed to quality secular public education for all and the right to education in the mother tongue not only of Kurdish, but of all ethnic minority communities in Turkey.
Odile Cordelier, also a member of the delegation, echoed Bartlett’s call for urgent messages in support of the KESK and Egitem Sen members and representations to Turkish authorities in countries across Europe. The resolution was passed unanimously.